How can music be hygge?

Pippa Smith 19 January 2017

Psychologists have been studying the effect of music on the way we think, feel and act for years. Some studies suggest even the difference between a perfect fifth and a tritone could affect our cognitive function and that listening to music we enjoy actually decreases our productivity. But we don’t need experiments and theses to tell us music has a powerful impact on our mood and perception. We naturally associate certain songs with the emotions we felt when we first heard them; the lyrics provoke us to draw forward similar episodes in our own life and the melodies catalyse a stream of association which shapes our music tastes and preferences. After all, memory and emotion are much less about the past, than about a present stimulant.

It is difficult to find silence in the modern world; music pervades shopping centres, soundtracks films and TV shows, commences tannoy announcements… the list goes on. But can we harness this incessant noise in a way which allows music to help us combat the daily stresses of a fast-paced world. Developments in music such as itunes and Spotify have allowed us to start using music as a mood-maker, even if we do not realise we are doing it. The humble playlist lets the listener have complete control over what they hear, obviously. But if you think about it most albums contain a mix of happy and sad, up-tempo and chilled songs. Even Adele throws in a song not about a break-up from time to time. Playlists allow us to iron out such variety and neatly sort the music we enjoy into packages ready to be opened up when the mood strikes us, or when we want a certain mood to strike us.

I am undoubtedly no.1 follower of the playlist way of life. From party playlists to songs to listen to in the bath, from summer anthems to running soundtracks and essay writing playlists, you name it, I’ve probably made a playlist for it. Streaming websites now make this even easier. You can easily search your desired mood or activity and will be presented with a range of ready-made playlists to explore. Spotify now even suggests playlists based on the sort of music you listen to frequently. The day I scrolled down to see ‘Sad songs’ and ‘Life sucks’ picked just for me confirmed in my mind that I’m not sure how much I appreciate this recent development.

In fact, the power of the playlist is a gift, but I think it can also be a curse. Sometimes it’s nice to have a little wallow but I’m not exactly sure how healthy or useful ‘Life sucks’ playlists are in the grand scheme of things. I certainly have a tendency to try and wind down from the stress of uni work with a chilled out playlist, and most chilled songs seem to have very depressing themes. I sometimes wonder whether exposing myself to uninterrupted music like this is good for my state of mind, or whether compartmentalising music in general is a sensible approach. It is probably equally damaging to force yourself out of a reverie with saccharine pop playlists when you’re feeling low.

One thing experts agree on is that music causes the release of dopamine in our brains and makes us feel good and relaxed. With lifestyle trends such as hygge taking over the UK music is surely therefore a powerful tool in helping us heighten the everyday – if it can enhance the most poignant moments of big screen blockbusters then surely it can work wonders on our own lives. What is important is to find the music you love and appreciate it, not necessarily for the lyrics or the time it makes you think of, but for the way it makes you feel today. In this spirit, I’m making a new playlist – one that grows every time I come across a song I love, regardless of the mood it creates.