Are music and happiness linked?

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Story highlights

  • A new study shows a correlation between happiness and the enjoyment of music
  • Why? There could be many reasons, expert says

(CNN)A new study out of Australia confirms what we probably already knew: People who dance and go to concerts regularly are pretty happy. While it may seem obvious, comparing happiness and the enjoyment of music can actually tell us a lot about how music affects us psychologically.

Researchers at Deakin University in Victoria analyzed 1,000 interviews with randomly chosen Australian citizens to see if there was a connection between their self-reported music consumption and happiness levels.
    Sure enough, they found that people who actively engaged with music through dancing and attending events like concerts and musicals reported a higher level of subjective wellbeing (a more scientific way of saying "happiness").

    Different modes of music, different results

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    The study used data from the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index, an annual survey that attempts to measure the happiness of Australian citizens. In 2014, the Index paid special attention to music consumption habits through six different activities: Listening to music, singing, playing an instrument, dancing, composing music, and attending music-oriented events.
    Deakin University's Melissa Weinberg, who co-authored the study, told CNN there were specific activities that seemed to correlate with higher happiness levels.
    "We found there were differences in those who danced or attended music events," she said.
    Why would dancing and concert-going correlate more with our wellbeing than, say, simply listening to Spotify? Weinberg says there's no hard and fast answer, but psychology seems to suggest it's about emotional and social connections.
    "It's that active engagement that seems to be critical," she says. "People who intentionally interact with music, they're using an outlet to express their emotions."
    It's an outlet that's even more powerful when shared.
    "Music seems to be a way that can facilitate social connections," Weinberg says. "And we know social relationships are absolutely critical to subjective wellbeing. Anything that has people coming together through mutual interest or commonality will contribute to this, including music."

    Sorry, concerts don't necessarily make you happier

    Is this yet another reason to justify buying tickets to Coachella next year? Not exactly. First of all, participants weren't asked about their preferred forms of music entertainment, so it probably wasn't all about the sweaty bacchanalia of outdoor festivals and EDM shows.
    The average age of survey participants was 56, so more subdued forms of music entertainment like classical concerts, blues shows or musical theater were probably represented.
    Weinberg says it's also important to remember that just because there's a relationship doesn't mean there's causation: Dancing at a rock show doesn't necessarily make you a happier person.
    "It's just as plausible that the people who are happier have a reason to dance, or the people who have more resources go to concerts," she says. "I think [the study] is more reflective of the way we think about music."
    Consider this, for instance: Listening to music alone doesn't seem to have the same happiness correlation, yet that is how most people experience music on a daily basis.
    "I think it's interesting that, in today's day and age everybody's sort of walking around with headphones in their ears and not engaging with others," Weinberg says. "Yet there's a clear difference between listening to music in isolation, versus listening to music with others or engaging with music."