Our lives are accompanied by a soundtrack. We add and delete songs over time, but some artists join us for major parts of the journey, and we may not realize how impactful they become.
I was 20 and in my senior year of college when I heard that Harry Chapin had died. I was shocked and enormously sad. I’d listened to Harry’s music since early high school and seen him in concert numerous times. I later introduced my husband and children to Harry’s songs and his brother’s music.
I’d heard people talk about how they felt when they heard John Lennon had been shot and killed. I never understood that degree of grief over a musician or artist. Harry’s death was the first time I got it. I felt a similar loss.
Then, on September 1, I heard that Jimmy Buffet had died. I couldn’t believe the grief I experienced. In fact, I’ve cried periodically since and have incessantly read articles and social media posts and watched videos about and of him.
I started listening to Jimmy’s music right after I graduated college. I went to several of his concerts and later introduced my husband to his songs. The first concert my stepchildren attended was a Jimmy Buffet concert. My husband and I danced to “Bigger than the Both of Us” at our wedding and saw him in concert again in Sacramento a few years ago.
When I thought about why Jimmy’s death had such a significant impact on me, I realized that his music has been the soundtrack of my life for more than 40 years.
My Life Soundtrack
If I think back over my life, I can pick out other musicians whose music has been on my life soundtrack. These artists include Billy Joel, Southside Johnny, James Taylor, Meatloaf, Carly Simon, and Bruce Springsteen, to name a few. I’d also mourn their passing—I have no idea to what extent, though.
When Meatloaf died, I didn’t have as strong an emotional reaction as when Jimmy died. Yes, I was sad and recalled many great memories—like attending a concert with my high-school sweetheart, singing to his songs with my kids and husband, and seeing his musical twice—once in London with my husband and once in New York City with my son.
I think we all have a life playlist. And there are songs we will always love and musicians we will always listen to and whose music brings back fond memories. Of course, we add to the playlist as time passes. Still, something about those early musical influences seems different, do they not?
The Promise of Life as a Beach
Many people who know more about the music scene than I have commented on why Jimmy Buffet and his music have been so famous for so long. Read tributes to him, and you’ll likely conclude he seemed an all-around great guy…happy going, kind and thoughtful, and always ready to turn a fun or interesting phrase into a song. And his songs—snippets of his life—are uplifting, fun, and touching simultaneously.
As for me, I suppose Jimmy’s music always spoke of life being a beach (or a tire swing). I’ve loved the ocean my entire life, and for many years, the thought of spending all my time there was my dream. He lived that dream.
Plus, his vaguely metaphysical and positive messages resonated with me. My husband and I chose “Bigger than the Both of Us” for our first dance at our wedding reception because of the lyrics:
And it’s bigger than the both of us Deeper than the sea Tossing on the water riding destiny Bigger than the both of us Farther than the eye can see We’re dancing, our souls are dancing Infinity.
And there were all the life experiences associated with his music… Driving to the beach with his songs blaring, singing “Sharks” with shark-like hand motions, and being at the beach and playing “Boat Drinks” while drinking daiquiris. Before that, there were the parties with my friends, which always included a Jimmy Buffet soundtrack and vast bowls of “boat drinks.”
My Music Choices
Our musical tastes change as we and our lives change. In high school, I listened to sad music appropriate for a serious young girl who always felt love was passing her by.
When my marriage seemed doomed, I listened to music that expressed my anger, sadness, and disappointment, as well as my desire to feel powerful and free to make different choices. I liked lyrics that gave voice to what I wanted to say to my husband but couldn’t get out of my mouth.
Today, I listen primarily to music with positive lyrics. This became my practice a decade ago. I needed soundtracks to uplift me and give me hope since I felt stuck in many ways.
I also listen to classical music, like Mozart, to help me focus when I work. Music has become a productivity—and a transformational—tool.
The Power of Music
Indeed, music has powerful benefits. It can lift you up, bring you down, make you feel understood, and help you feel powerful or powerless. Music helps you to process your emotions and experiences and imagine possible futures.
Think back over your life… What artists did you listen to when you were a teenager? And what about in college…or after graduation? What did you listen to as a young adult, at midlife, or as you reached retirement age? What do you listen to now?
Maybe the more important question is, why did you choose those playlists at those specific times of your life? And why do you choose the music you do now?
I know that I choose music to help me feel a certain way or to raise my energy. What artists make you feel happy, hopeful, and filled with love? Which ones give you peace, help you process sadness or grief, or help you feel empowered?
You can choose which artists to put on your playlist, and each and every note and lyric will impact how you feel.
The Science Behind Music’s Effects
There’s science to all of this talk of life playlists. For instance, Johns Hopkins Medical says listening to music reduces stress, anxiety, blood pressure, and pain. It improves sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory.
Intuitively, maybe even instinctively, we know music makes us feel better or helps us process emotions. Parents sing their children lullabies to soothe them into sleep. We listen to music that helps us power through a workout, tackle complex tasks, or stay alert.
Research proves that listening to music increases blood flow to the brain, specifically to regions that generate and control emotions. For instance, the limbic system, which processes emotions and controls memory, is activated when ears hear music.
Plus, music produces dopamine in the body, a neurotransmitter that creates the sensation of pleasure and well-being. Additionally, dopamine influences focus, concentration, memory, sleep, mood, and motivation.
Music also produces serotonin in the body. This neurotransmitter impacts mood, sleep patterns, anxiety, and pain.
Evidence suggests that listening to music helps brain cells process information efficiently and facilitates the brain’s ability to adapt.
Some scientists believe music impacts the physical body, too. Vibroacoustic therapy uses low-frequency sound to produce vibrations applied directly to the body. If you believe in the body’s aura or etheric body, you’ll be interested to know that vibroacoustic therapy can open the chakras and impact your energy body as well as your physical body.
The Benefits of Singing
And let’s not forget the benefits of singing, which is “making music.” The larynx, or voice box, connects to the vagus nerve. This is the main nerve of your parasympathetic nervous system, which calms your sympathetic nervous system when it gets into a “fight or flight” reaction. The parasympathetic nervous system controls digestion, heart rate, and immune system.
You activate the vagus nerve when you sing, hum, or chant. Try humming if you feel stressed or afraid and want to calm yourself down. This slows your heart rate and relaxes you quickly.
Singing in a group, like at church, helps you feel connected to other people because of the production of the hormone oxytocin. Also, singing synchronizes breathing patterns, promoting relaxation and reducing cortisol production.
I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg regarding music’s positive impact. A brief Google search will provide more information than you care to know.
Music to Change Your Mood
Intentionally choose your playlist, especially if you want to change your mood. Consider trying the Iso principle, which matches music to a current mood or emotion. Then, the music gradually shifts to align with a desired mood or emotion.
If you want to listen to a song that you pair with anger or sadness, go ahead! But if you want to feel peaceful or happy, after a few songs, switch the playlist to music that elicits those feelings.
And don’t repeat too many times the songs that make you feel unwanted emotions! If you do, you’ll create deeper neural pathways for your feelings of anger or sadness, for example. Instead, listen to those songs once or twice and then play music that instills within you the mood you desire. Repeat those tracks as many times as you like to retrain your brain to the desired emotions.
In this way, your playlist gradually moves you from uncomfortable or unwanted emotions to comfortable or wanted ones.
Choose Your Playlist Intentionally
I challenge you to intentionally create a playlist that helps you heal, focus, feel happy, have fun, or express emotions. Or put together a playlist for anything you want to create—that gets you from where you are to where you want to go, from who you are to who you want to be, or from what you feel now to what you want to feel in the future.
Why? Because music enhances your innate creative ability. Why not use it to help you create what you desire?
Whether you play country Western songs about lost love, rap songs filled with angry lyrics, or pop songs filled with upbeat, dance-worthy rhythms, know that your playlist choices impact how you feel and what you create. Music can be a transformational tool or a way to stay stuck in old emotional habits, so choose your playlist wisely.
Have you ever used music as a transformational tool? Tell me in a comment below. And please share this post with a friend or on social media.
Interested in how to change yourself or your life? Let’s chat. Get on my calendar here. Or join the Inspired Creator Community for group personal and spiritual growth coaching every month.
Photo courtesy of Zelma Brezinska .