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  • K. McConnell, R. Psych.

5 Songs for 5 Souls: Music and Emotion

If music is the language of the soul, which songs speak to you and your emotions? Songwriters let us into their world for about 3 minutes, give or take, and in doing so we can connect to their lived experiences. Sometimes we'll get our own interpretations wrong, but that's okay. What is more relevant is how the music connects to our thoughts and feelings. Making and listening to music can be very regulating and soothing. Daniel Levitin, who wrote "This is Your Brain on Music" says of Stevie Wonder's Superstition, “He keeps us on our mental toes by changing aspects of the pattern every time he plays it, holding just enough of it the same to keep us grounded and oriented." Isn't that a fantastic analogy for living our lives? Finding passion, stimulation, and challenge in life while being grounded and connected?

Music and Emotion

When it comes to exercise, there has been a longstanding debate regarding its benefits while running or walking. But is this really surprising? Music is personal and musical preferences are as unique as we are. It would be difficult to measure. How can you empirically study this? Using cadence and tempo works in some ways, but to definitively say whether any music helps people become better runners seems to be a flawed research question. There are times when I run that I need some good tunes to get motivated. There are times when I need to be present with my breath, my legs, and the path ahead.

The songs below are some of my current favourites for different reasons. Each speaks to different traits that are more or less a part of all of us.

  • For the overachiever: Billy Joel - Vienna

This song is an anthem for those who find relief from getting their to-do lists done, while at the same time always having another to-do list lying in the wait. It is difficult in our culture to slow down and take notice. Vienna was Billy Joel's parents' homeland. But Vienna is also a space, a moment, or a place where the overachiever doesn't feel like an imposter and is truly relaxed and present.

  • For the pleaser: Elvis - Any Way You Want Me

Dr. Gabor Mate, addiction expert, points to the yearning in this song that is so apparent; looking towards someone else for happiness. Willing to do almost anything for their love and acceptance. Elvis' father went to prison when he was just three years old. His mother likely could not always be emotionally available to Elvis. Such an early traumatic experience can make it difficult to build the emotional foundation needed for fulfillment, self-reliance, and self-regulation. The ironic part is that in order to truly connect with others, the pleaser needs to separate their feelings from others in order to build self-agency.

  • For the free: Feeling Good - Nina Simone

There is a recent movie from Netflix that documents Nina Simone's struggles. Nina longed to be a classical pianist, but was driven towards soul. Classical music is where she found her freedom; her sense of release. Finding and relishing moments in life when you feel good, connected, and present are those of focus and flow. In what environments do you feel good? Are they connected to certain activities or people? Flow theory suggests that people are in their optimal psychological state when there is the just right amount of challenge combined with skill. Find your flow.

  • For the rescuer: Belle Mt - Hollow

Have you ever had a friend, family member, or partner who seemed to always need something from you? Part of being strong is knowing how to ask for help from others, but if you've grown up with no control or too much control over your behaviours it can lead to difficulties with creating your own sense of self, agency, and resilience. Although this song focuses on the woman who is unable to accept the love of a man, I was curious about what drew the man to the woman: the rescuer.

  • For the activist: Papa Roach - Born for Greatness

Speaking out against injustice and discrimination is necessary to build healthy, inclusive, and diverse communities. Whether a part of #DoSomething, #MeToo, #TimesUp, #2030Now or any other movement or hashtag that is making this world a better place, this tune captures what it means to stand apart.

Next time you listen to one of your favourite songs, think about the emotions that are evoked in you. Think about what the lyrics convey to you about life or about who you are in your life. If you've got a good one, post below!


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