Most of us are just looking for some happiness. ‘Course we don’t always know what happiness is or maybe even notice when we find it, but I think happiness comes to us in small ways that sometimes seem unimportant. We need to teach ourselves to enjoy our happiness—relax in the moment—take pride in achieving happiness, no matter how small a thing it might seem. A psychologist would define happiness as “The experience of joy, contentment, and positive well-being combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.” For some of us happiness comes from sitting on a log at the beach watching a spectacular sunset. Or, from being surrounded by family or friends who you love. Maybe it comes when you achieve a personal goal you’ve been working towards, like learning a new language or conquering an old fear. Or maybe it is as simple as a good meal prepared by loving hands or hearing someone singing from their heart and soul.
I watched a music video recently of Willie Nelson driving a big ‘ole caddy convertible down a peaceful road in the Texas hill country, singing a song with his son Lukas. Could there be anything better? Shoot, it made me happy just watching them, and even though I realize it is a staged video moment, I’m pretty sure both of them were over the top happy just to be there together doing what they love. Then I sat and watched hours of Willie videos and cried and smiled and ate popcorn and sang along. And somehow I felt better for it. Music makes people feel good. Listening to people making music makes us happy. Playing music with people we love just takes it up another notch. Many studies have documented the health benefits of either listening to or playing music. I have written about this a lot, and just don’t understand how anyone can ignore the value of music in our society or our private lives.
Yet funding for the arts in general is being systematically eliminated from our schools and colleges, and the benefits of disciplined, focused practice are being ignored. Playing music lowers blood pressure and diabetic numbers. People who listen to music after surgery have faster recovery times. Making music can delay the onset of some of the mental decline caused by aging. The study of music uses all parts of the brain and helps us to be better at many things. It teaches discipline and patience and math and control and has so many positive effects on us that it should be part of every learning curriculum. Not to mention it is fun and causes us to get up and out of our lazy boys and dance! Which is also good for us!
So we know that playing music alone or with others has great benefits, as does listening to music. Well, just how much is enough? Apparently 78 minutes! A study I read recently said that listening to good, positive music at least 78 minutes per day is the key to happiness. They examined the habits of 7,500 people and how music affected their emotional and mental well-being and came up with some interesting results. 90% of the people questioned said relaxation was an emotional benefit of listening to music. 82% experienced happiness when listening to music and 47% of people were able to overcome sadness when music was being played. 32% had better concentration and 28% were able to let go of their anger. Listening to happy music increases the blood flow to areas of the brain associated with reward, and decreases the flow of blood to the amygdala, the part of the brain associated with fear.
So think of your music choices as the same as your healthy food choices! Cut out the sugar and the meat and eat fish and veggies! The scientist types say that we should listen to 14 minutes of uplifting music of our choice to help us feel happy. That’s 18% of our daily requirement. Then 16 minutes of calming, peaceful music to help us feel relaxed, (20.5%). Another 16 minutes of the same to help us overcome sadness. 15 minutes of motivational music to aid concentration (19%) and 17 minutes of positive beautiful music to help us manage our anger (22%). So if we need 78 minutes per day of uplifting music, that breaks down to 3.25 minutes per hour to fulfill your daily quota and make yourself happier! Geez, we could listen to that little bit of music by accident!
A lack of confidence in their musical abilities may hold back some would-be players from pursuing learning how to play. But you can re-boot the whole process when you’re an adult—try a different instrument or type of music. Join beginner friendly ensembles, find a teacher on the internet who you can relate to and realize that those nerve-wracking solo recitals are optional once you are a grown-up! Personally I think focusing on performance instead of on knowledge and the enjoyment music brings us is missing the point. I remember my Dad quit going to my recitals cause I was either barfing in the bathroom being all stressed out or wanting to quit altogether. Just learn some stuff and have fun!
We’ve had some great live music going on down here in Dysfunction Junction lately—or Dominical, as some folks call it. TORTILLA FLATS has been hosting live music every Monday at sunset, and we have been bringing in guest artists from the states and other exotic places. BEN ORTON, myself, and the rhythm section guys from LOS GECKOS have been backing up some really interesting new and different artists, so check with them for the schedule. There’s late night music sometimes at the Rum Bar, Fuego has solo players fairly often, and there’s some fine music going on down in Uvita and Ojochol. Please get out and patronize the places that hire musicians—you’ll feel better physically and mentally! I’m going on a Blues Cruise in February—I’ll tell you all about it next month providing I don’t jump ship somewhere!
As adults we try to relax from the never-ending quest for reason and order by drinking a little whiskey or smoking whatever works for us, but the wisdom isn’t in the whiskey or the smoke. The wisdom is in the moments when the madness slips away and we remember the basics.
I take it not only a day at a time, but a moment at a time, and keep it at that pace. If you can be happy right now, then you’ll always be happy, because it’s always in the now.
Yes, I understand that every life must end. As we sit alone, I know someday we must go. Oh I’m a lucky man to count on both hands the ones I love. Some folks just have one, yeah others, they’ve got none. Stay with me, let’s just breathe.