Listening to upbeat, cheery music can indeed make people happier, scientists say.

Researchers from the University of Missouri discovered that an individual can successfully try to be happier, especially when cheery music aids the process.

“Our work provides support for what many people already do — listen to music to improve their moods,” said lead author Yuna Ferguson.

“Although pursuing personal happiness may be thought of as a self-centred venture, research suggests that happiness relates to a higher probability of socially beneficial behaviour, better physical health, higher income and greater relationship satisfaction,” Ferguson said.

In two studies, participants successfully improved their moods in the short term and boosted their overall happiness over a two week period.

During the first study, participants improved their mood after being instructed to attempt to do so, but only if they listened to the upbeat music of Copland, as opposed to the more sombre Stravinsky.

Other participants, who simply listened to the music without attempting to change their mood, also didn’t report a change in happiness.

In the second study, participants reported higher levels of happiness after two weeks of lab sessions in which they listened to positive music while trying to feel happier, compared to control participants who only listened to music.

However, Ferguson noted that for people to put her research into practice, they must be wary of too much introspection into their mood or constantly asking, “Am I happy yet?”

“Rather than focusing on how much happiness they’ve gained and engaging in that kind of mental calculation, people could focus more on enjoying their experience of the journey towards happiness and not get hung up on the destination,” said Ferguson.

Ferguson’s work corroborated earlier findings by her doctoral adviser and co-author of the current study, Kennon Sheldon, professor of psychological science in MU’s College of Arts and Science.

“The Hedonic Adaptation Prevention model, developed in my earlier research, says that we can stay in the upper half of our ‘set range’ of potential happiness as long as we keep having positive experiences, and avoid wanting too much more than we have,” said Sheldon.

“Yuna’s research suggests that we can intentionally seek to make mental changes leading to new positive experiences of life. The fact that we’re aware we’re doing this has no detrimental effect,” Sheldon added.

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