August 2, 2021

The One Thing we can do Every Morning to make us 3 Percent Happier.


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In the Shower with Al Jarreau: How Do You Start Your Day?

Every morning, I do one thing that sets the tone for my entire day.

It’s not meditating or walking the dog (although I do both most days).

It’s this: I hit play on my Al Jarreau Pandora playlist and jump into the shower.

Soon I’m boogying to “We’re in This Love Forever” by Al Jarreau, “Feel So Good” by Chuck Mangione, or Grover Washington’s “Soulful Strut.”

Okay, this music may not be your cup of tea. But stay with me.

Since writing an article for Elephant Journal on success and the Anthony Bourdain documentary Roadrunner, I’ve been haunted by all things related to the globe-trotting chef. But one thing stands out: the Spotify playlist of his favorite songs that director Morgan Neville released.

I can’t stop listening to it.

One of the people interviewed in Roadrunner calls Bourdain’s favorite song, “Anemone” by The Brian Jonestown Massacre, “heroin music.” Even though Bourdain had quit his heroin habit long before, the person said the music continued to connect him to that time.

Yet there are lighter tunes on the list—“That’s the Way of the World” by Earth Wind and Fire and “Africa” by Toto—but most are edgy, dark. And I love those songs, from “Use Me” by Bill Withers to “Superfly” by Curtis Mayfield to The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated.”

His list got me thinking about the playlists I’ve had over the years. There was my Depeche Mode phase in college—we called them Depress Mode. The Foo Fighters’ greatest hits album was my soundtrack for countless treks across the Americas during the Great Recession. And there were too many mornings spent listening to Puddle of Mud’s “Blurry,” “She Hates Me,” and “Psycho,” while spinning off the previous night’s stress-related binger.

I even scoffed at happier music, and told someone close to me that his playlist was too happy, too upbeat—that he was silly to favor nostalgic tunes from a simpler time. But after his sudden death, I listened to that playlist on repeat, crying at what I missed and smiling at moodier choices, like Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out for Summer”—he was a high school history teacher.

What my dear friend knew—and I have learned—is that the music we listen to affects our moods and mental state. In an article on The National Alliance on Mental Health website, Molly Warren says, “Music can be utilized to regulate mood. Because of its rhythmic and repetitive aspects, music engages the neocortex of our brain, which calms us and reduces impulsivity. We often utilize music to match or alter our mood. While there are benefits to matching music to our mood, it can potentially keep us stuck in a depressive, angry or anxious state.”

One of the many wellness coaches I follow, Maria Sirois, says that if we are suffering, even trying something that makes our day three percent happier can change everything. Striving for more than that can be too hard, but 3 percent can work as a daily practice.

Al Jarreau’s peppy songs were the three percent after my mother died. And when my teacher friend passed away from a stroke a few months later. It also helped me navigate other milestones: job changes, downsizing, the quiet of an empty nest.

These life hurdles were opportunities to fall into old musical ways, and I did at times. I even dropped Twenty-One Pilots’ “Heathens” into a yoga class playlist. But I kept coming back to Al and his merry band of musicians.

How might all our days change if we began with an upbeat score? Or listened to those who have set aside far more lucrative careers to give back by coaching and advising others.

I, for one, would be much worse off without them.

If someone were to pick up our playlists today, what would they hear? Are the songs uplifting, or are there additions to be made? Or tunes better left behind?

Share your insights and favorites in the comment section. May they be of benefit.


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