I couldn’t help smiling when I heard our tour guide Arnie sing an Icelandic folk song a cappella in Þingvellir National Park. His smooth baritone voice rang in the air around our group, mesmerizing us. Soon I found myself humming along, even though I didn’t know the song and couldn’t understand the lyrics. There was just something about how Arnie belted out the song with unabashed joy that was contagious. No matter what was going on in our lives, for those few minutes we were all captivated by joy. Singing is a wonderful way to experience joy in any circumstances. By singing for well-being intentionally, you can actually sing your way to joy.
That’s what many Icelanders do, Arnie told our group later. In Iceland, all communities of more than 30 people have community choirs, he said. Adults and children alike sing together weekly to strengthen their well-being. In fact, Icelanders enjoy singing so much that the vast majority of people there participate in a choir, added Arnie.
I often sing just for the joy of doing so. For years growing up, I sang in school and university choirs. Now I still sing regularly, but informally – in the shower, at church, while driving, etc. I sing no matter what circumstances I’m facing or how I’m feeling. Not only do I not wait to feel happy before I start to sing, but I sing especially when I’m sad. Why? Because I know that by the end of a song, I’ll feel better than I did when I began.
Research studies show that singing can lead to many well-being benefits, from physical health (such as better breathing, stronger heart rates, and greater immunity) to psychological health (feeling less anxious, bonding better with other people – and yes, experiencing more joy).
Those benefits are valuable at any time of year, but especially during the holiday season, when people are often dealing with stress and depression. The pressure and unmet expectations that many people struggle with during the holidays can ruin what seems on the surface to be a joyous season. That happens so often that there’s a name for it: holiday blues. The good news is that the holiday season features lots of special songs to sing – giving us all more opportunities to sing our way to joy.
So how can the process of singing actually lead to experiencing joy? The key reasons are:
· Singing focuses your mind on the present moment as you concentrate on expressing the music and lyrics. Choosing to focus on a joyful song will bring you into a joyful state of mind. Singing is a form of mindfulness and can be especially effective to center your mind when you’re in a creative flow experience or when you sing while meditating or praying.
· Singing brings you into harmony with energy that strengthens well-being. The high vibrational frequencies produced by positive, harmonious music resonate well within your body and soul. Sound, along with light, is a foundational part of our universe’s structure. When you use your voice to sing a beautiful song, you align your personal energy with the good vibes of high frequencies of energy. So you naturally feel good when you sing.
· Singing with other people brings you all into harmony together. Sharing the experience of singing builds community. You literally tune into musical notes together, and in the process, you become more attuned to each other. Singing is also lots of fun, and sharing fun experiences strengthens relationship bonds.
Opportunities abound for you to incorporate singing into your daily life. Here are some easy ways to do so:
· Sing with your family and friends when you get together for fun (meals, parties, etc.) Try singing some your favorite songs and theirs. A karaoke machine helps, but isn’t necessary. Enjoy the humor of the experience and the way it can bond you in closer relationships. If any of you play musical instruments – from the piano to the guitar – invite the musicians among you to play along sometimes.
· Sing at your job or on your commute. You can relieve stress and enjoy your work more simply by allowing yourself to sing for a while during workdays. Sing along to the radio on your drive to and from work. Or, if you work from home, sing on your breaks (after all, no one will mind if you belt out a tune in a room by yourself). Even if your job is in a crowded workplace, you can still hum to yourself at your desk or as you’re walking around.
· Sing while you pray. Praising God through song at your place of worship or in your private prayer times is a powerful way to experience joy. Many of the world’s sacred texts describe how God responds to people’s singing by blessing them with joy. St. Augustine famously said that “to sing is to pray twice.”
· Sing while you meditate by chanting. The ancient practice of chanting – rhythmically singing or speaking a word or phrase – can calm your nervous system and help you notice the joy that exists with you in the present moment.
· Sing while you’re walking or driving anywhere. Make use of the time you spend traveling around to sing songs you enjoy. If you have to drive do to errands, sing on the way. If you’re walking somewhere, try singing or humming as you go. While singing doesn’t mix well with high intensity exercise, it can work well with walking, since walking doesn’t place heavy demands on your breathing. Many people talk while they walk, so why not sing while you walk?
· Sing to your pets. The idea of doing this may strike you as funny, but animals seriously enjoy music as much as people do. My cat purrs when I sing, and some of my friends’ dogs howl along with them when they sing. People with pet birds often sing duets with their pet birds. In fact, research has shown that many different types of animals sing in their own ways and respond to singing from humans around them.
· Sing while doing household chores. From cooking to laundry, chores can become more enjoyable if you sing while you’re working on them. Who cares how boring it is to clean out a closet if you’re having fun singing while you do so?
You can’t change many challenging situations that come into your life. But you can sing in the midst of them. If you do, joy will come into your life in ways that resonate well, no matter what!
Whitney Hopler works as Communications Director at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being and has written for many media organizations, from About.com to the Washington Post. Connect with her on Twitter and connect with CWB on Twitter and Facebook.