Tag Archives: Music

The special power of music

In some ways, I’m old-fashioned, and I do take some pride in it. In my house, I have a historic artifact that was very popular in the end of the late 20th century but has declined ever since. I possess a CD player.

Of course I know that you can access any song any time through YouTube or iTunes, and that the storage space of an iPod or any other MP3 player is virtually endless. But it’s not the same. To me, CDs, and books alike, are more than .m4a or .epub files.

CDs are media with a soul. They are like friends who are accompanying me during my journey through life. When I select one of my CD’s, take it out of its case and put in my CD player, it’s an experience that goes way beyond pushing a play button in iTunes. I remind myself of the place and time where I bought it, the friend who gave it to me or what the band or singer means to me.

My passion must be hereditary: my father has at least 1,000 of CD’s, and counting. His collection now encompasses everything, from classical music to jazz and 1970s pop to country. Surprisingly, I discovered music very late. If we neglect my embarrassing purchase of ‘Smurfs House’ when in the 1990s Dutch house music was conquering the world, and the Krezip single ‘I would stay’ I sent to my three-day summer love at 15, I only bought my first CD at 16. It was Parachutes, the first album of a new band called Coldplay I had read about in a magazine.

Special tones and vibes

Music does something special to people.

How it exactly works I don’t know, but music creates ‘vibes’, a sense of ‘cosiness’,  goosebumps at times.

Melodies and sounds form a key to joy. Or to sadness, or any other emotion. Music can help to be happy, to be creative, to get through boring activities like doing the dishes or ironing shirts, push you up a steep hill when you are running.

What are the songs that make me happiest? It probably varies from time to time, but at the moment they’re mostly energetic songs with a good dose of electronics. Some of my current favourites:

To bring a smile to my face

I can’t believe anybody can be grumpy seeing the clip of Gramatik’s Hit That Jive! Or in the same electro-swing mood: Parov Stelar’s Booty Swing, with a guest appearance from Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

To energise me.

I like to listen to one of the tracks of Peter and the Magician to get me going when I am lazy. The energy motivates me to do things around the house or do some writing. Django Django is also a good one in this category, also for a late afternoon when I’m alone in my office.

To listen in awe.

Anything from Daft Punk’s latest album will do. Giorgio by Morodor is one of my favourites but the entire album is awesome.

The ultimate happy song

And of course, this list is not complete without Pharrell’s Happy, one of the ultimate happy songs. And the cool thing is that it’s become a lot than a song. Last November, Pharrell made a 24-hour video clip. People in cities from Amsterdam to Cotonou (Benin) made their own versions. And the last days, the Flappy Bird version is conquering the internet.

And which songs do make you happy?

Fitter, happier

Fitter, happier
More productive, comfortable.
Not drinking too much.
Regular exercise at the gym (three days a week)

If you are like me, you’ve tried to start 2014 fitter and happier, like in the Radiohead song. Through New Year resolutions, we motivate ourselves to reinvent ourselves or to create a new and improved version.

Fitter, happier, more productive.

Evidently, New Year resolutions have something arbitrary: why would I quit smoking or start reading more often on the 1st of January? I can do that any day of the year. And psychology knows that the dark days of January aren’t the best time in the year to change a habit. Starting new habits just after the summer holidays seems to be a better moment. Still, the start of the year is a natural moment to evaluate personal development in the past year and set new goals.

But damn – does it require discipline to produce that improved edition of yourself! And I guess that by now, three weeks into the year, you might already have hit some of the dark moments. If you do, don’t fall for all the talk about Blue Monday, “the most depressing day of the year”, going around. Blue Monday is a scam, made up with the help of a fake academic to sell more holidays. And Monday is a better day than Wednesday, as I wrote before!

Instead, re-engineer your New Year’s resolutions.

Replace habits

In principle a new year’s resolution should do something very basic: replace a bad habit (like snoozing too long or wasting time on the internet) by a better one (getting up early or productively writing a blog post). But often our methods to attain these goals are unrealistic.

In this article – very much worth a read! – the author makes the analogy with a marathon. If you are training for a marathon, you don’t start your first day of training with a 30k run. You start with a couple of kilometres, and you gradually build it up until you are ready for that marathon.

So why should I suddenly spend one hour every day writing blog posts?

The point is: creating new habits is a tiresome process. You have to start slow. Start doing the activity five minutes a day (or one hour a week), until it’s a solid habit. And then increase the five minutes to ten, and so on, and so forth. That it gets done is more important than when!

In the words of US politician Horace Mann:

“Habit is a cable; we weave a thread of it each day and at last we cannot break it.”

A pig in a cage on antibiotics

But it’s not only overly ambitious goals that may fail. Often resolutions are too vague, and require further specification. In my case, I’d like to keep better in touch with old friends across the world. If that’s how I formulate the goal, it’s easy to fail. But if I aim to write to at least three people I appreciate every week, it’s probably more effective.

Still, in a way, I actually don’t feel all too comfortable about resolutions. Do I really need all these targets and deadlines? Do they make me happier, or do I feel stressed by all my self-imposed rules? Does all this planning really make me fitter, happier, more productive?

Or do I create, as the Radiohead songs ends

A pig
In a cage
On antibiotics

If there’s one thing I don’t aspire to (apart from losing my enthusiasm and curiosity) it’s feeling like a pig in a cage on antibiotics yet. Therefore, one of the key parts of my resolutions is to allow time for a break in all of them.

Something has to happen every day. But not everything does not have to happen today.

And breaking the rules is just as important as following them.