By Stela Yanakieva
‘Without music, life would be a mistake.’ – Friedrich Nietzsche
Music is not simply a means of entertainment, but also a spa therapy for the mind, a source of motivation for the brain, a soothing remedy for the heart, an accessory for the talented character, and a friend that’s always there for you.
To begin with, studies in neuroscience have proven that music has the power to improve the condition of patients with brain damage. People with damage on the left side of the brain (which guides language, logic, and critical thinking) usually have trouble expressing their thoughts and so communication for them becomes almost impossible. The right hemisphere of the brain, on the other hand, is in charge of face recognition, reading emotions, intuition, and creativity; and last but not least, processing music. When people with brain damage are treated with music therapy, the sounds stimulate the right side of their brain, which bounces back to the left hemisphere and helps patients overcome their speech difficulties by allowing them to communicate through songs.
Another important fact about music is that it increases the levels of dopamine, which as a neurotransmitter plays a role similar to adrenaline. The difference between the two is that dopamine is released when we experience moments of pleasure, but also when we’re stressed and dealing with pain. Most importantly however, is that dopamine, which is often known as the ‘feel-good’ chemical, is now distinguished as the one that regulates and pushes motivation to act.
That’s why people with high level of dopamine are sometimes seen as thrill-seekers, filled with desire to do more, seek more, see more, and be generally active. Listening to music affects the brain the same way that food, sex, and exercise do. It is no wonder that so many people choose the company of their playlists, music blasting from their headphones. These thrill-seekers or simply individuals in need of some motivation, have understood the power of music.
Interestingly enough, music can boost our good mood but can also add to our sadness. When the music is good, you can’t help but feel goose bumps all over your body, a bizarre sensation going through your head, leaving a trace of lightness. As a matter of fact, more than 50% of people get “chills” when listening to music that brings them happiness or surprises them with a breath-taking element.
Same thing applies to when we’re listening to ballads, or sad songs. After the initial grief we feel when hearing a heart-breaking song, however, our brain recognizes that there’s no real reason behind the anxiety we’re experiencing. Therefore, the level of dopamine once again increases, stimulated by the idea that there is someone out there in this big world that understands life and us, whether the song writer or the singer himself. It is a feeling similar to the one known as ‘chills’.
Back in Ancient Greece, Plato, one of the wisest men to have ever lived, realised himself the significance and magic of music by leaving behind an important insight, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”
Music opens our eyes to another world, maybe a world completely in our own mind, but a world that allows us to safely dream of the impossible and firmly search for ways to make it possible.
Music also brings a sense of compassion, an invisible embrace that helps us deal with difficult challenges and painful experiences. As Bob Marley once said: “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain”.