I’m going to take a slightly different approach with the activities that I share with you this week. None of this week’s positive psychology exercises are positive interventions in a traditional sense – they were not designed by psychologists, and haven’t been evaluated in peer-reviewed studies. Instead, I’ll be sharing some recent viral internet trends that align with research on well-being.
One thing all of these exercises will share is an encouragement to spend time engaged in play or leisure. Although there is not consensus regarding the definition of play, and what specific activities “count” as play or leisure activities, many definitions are similar to those of the Play Therapy United Kingdom, which defines play as:
A physical or mental leisure activity that is undertaken purely for enjoyment or amusement and has no other objective.
Most research on the benefits of play have focused on outcomes among children. This research suggests that play has a key role in a wide range of important developmental processes, promoting positive outcomes related to physical abilities, creativity, imagination, social and emotional skills, learning, and relationships. Similarly, among adults, there is consistent evidence that engaging in leisure activities is associated with subjective well-being. Last semester, in a project for Research Methods in Clinical Psychology, Mike Bauman, Zouzou Debs, Lexi DiTrapano, Jess, Mosher, Zack Strawser, and Olivia TenHuisen found that playing with LEGOs – both unstructured (free play) and structured (with a set of instructions to build specific things) – led to decreases in negative affect. Although this small study did not find differences in affect between the two types of play, the findings did suggest that students enjoyed the free play more – an important finding, as the benefits of leisure activities appear to be related to how much individuals enjoy the leisure activities they engage in.
Today’s positive psychology exercise incorporates one of the most common forms of leisure: music. In 2017, Nielsen found that Americans spend an average of 32 hours listening to music every week. The relationship between music and well-being has been studied from many perspectives, and there is consistent evidence that listening to and creating music can promote flourishing and well-being. Interestingly, in comparison to research on other elements of music, there has been relatively little study of the role of lyrics in these effects. There are conflicting findings in studies comparing the emotional effects of melody versus lyrics: some find evidence that song melody influences emotional responses more strongly than the content of lyrics, while others find that lyrics seem to play a stronger role than music alone. Today’s exercise suggests incorporating music and lyrics you find enjoyable with an activity we are all finding ourselves engaged in regularly: washing your hands!
Today’s Positive Psychology Exercise: Wash Your Lyrics
Words make you think a thought.
Music makes you feel a feeling.
A song makes you feel a thought.
– Composer E. Y. (Yip) Harburg
Today’s positive psychology exercise encourages you to be playful with an activity that we are all spending lots of time on: washing your hands. The CDC recommends washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds often – especially after you have been in a public place or touched surfaces that may have been touched by other people. The CDC suggest singing “Happy Birthday” to yourself twice to make sure you are scrubbing for at least 20 seconds – but, after more than a month of exceptional hand hygiene, you might be bored with that option! Today’s exercise provides a playful way for you to make sure your hand washing routine is thorough, by encouraging you to choose your own enjoyable handwashing soundtrack.
Visit the website WashYourLyrics.com to generate a personalized infographic that combines your favorite song lyrics (or any other text!) with NHS/WHO guidelines for hand hygiene.
Want to get even more creative? Try creating your own parody, like “Clean as Hell” – and check on this timely article about the enduring popularity of Weird Al.
Stratton, V. N. & Zalanowski, A. H. (1994). Affective impact of music vs. lyrics. Empirical Studies of the Arts, 12(2), 173-184. https://doi.org/10.2190/35T0-U4DT-N09Q-LQHW
Abstract: Three experiments were conducted to examine the relative impact of lyrics vs. music on mood. In Experiment 1, the lyrics, music, or lyrics plus music of a sad song were presented to college students. While the music alone increased positive affect and decreased depression, the lyrics plus music had the opposite effect. In Experiment 2, the sad lyrics plus music also increased depression and decreased positive affect even when performed in an up-beat style. Experiment 3 showed that pairing the melody with the sad lyrics led subjects to rate the melody alone as less pleasant one week later. Lyrics, thus, appear to have greater power to direct mood change than music alone and can imbue a particular melody with affective qualities.