Mood and Music

Most people learn early on that music is a great way to process and express our feelings. In high school, boys listen to rock when they’re pumped and metal when they’re angry. Girls listen to sad ballads when they’re heartbroken and pop when they’re in love. But few people ever realize that music can also affect and change our feelings. That it’s a tool we can use to direct our emotions rather than just feel them.

This, too, is a process most of us are familiar with — we just rarely take it into our own hands. As a baby, your parents might have played you soft music to get you to fall asleep. The calming harmonies playing in the background of a spa or massage parlor actively help your muscles relax. And the Super Bowl halftime show isn’t an Adele concert for a reason: It’s supposed to get you amped up for the second half.

I understand the desire to choose music that gives your feelings credence. It’s a useful habit — but only to an extent. You can play sad songs for a while after you got dumped, but if sad songs is all you play for months on end, how are you supposed to get back to happy?

Immerse yourself in music that matches your emotions, but set deadlines for those emotions. Decide to make deliberate breaks where you change the playlist and thus change your feelings. Flip from songs about heartbreak to songs about savoring life to the fullest, or turn a slow, meandering lo-fi beat into a focused, forceful EDM anthem to transform reflective thinking into decisive action.

The roads of mood and music are two-lane streets. Make sure you drive on them in both directions depending on where you’re trying to go.