It was Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK last week and it’s Mental Health Month in the US, so I wanted to share another personal story about something that makes me happy and definitely increases my wellbeing and mental health. That’s singing!
I have always been quite musical. As a teenager, I sang in the school choir and often sang solos in school musicals and concerts. My claim to fame was performing “The Green Fields of France” (singing and playing the guitar) for Remembrance Sunday on a Radio Berkshire’s Irish Eye, struggling with a very bad hangover after a 6th form ball.
Unfortunately, as with many childhood passions and hobbies, I grew up, focused on my career and dropped many of my childhood pursuits. But about 2 years ago, a friend introduced me to a local singing group, called The Voices Of Barnes, lead by the supremely talented Lorna Blackwood and I was reunited with something that I loved!
As an entrepreneur, working long hours, not having a set routine and constantly thinking about my business, there is a sense of escapism that I get from singing; a feeling of being in ‘flow’. Whilst the benefits of singing on our wellbeing have been widely documented, I hadn’t realised how much it would affect my own wellbeing and it wasn’t just being in ‘flow’ that made me feel happier, there was a also a great feeling of satisfaction from learning.
Lorna’s lessons always provided a learning opportunity. Whether I was learning how to anchor, how to sing in my 'head voice' or about a musical genre that I had not been aware of before, I really loved mastering new techniques and expanding my knowledge of singing and music in general. It's not surprising that I feel better about myself when I'm learning. “Keep Learning” has been identified by The New Economics Foundation as one of the 5 ways to wellbeing. When we learn new things, we feel happier.
There is also something special about mastering a skill and creating something together, as a group, which some may describe as "Group flow". Last week, we had a two hour singing workshop and within that time a group of 20 of us learnt a new song in two part harmony. At the beginning of the session when the song was beautifully sung to us by Lorna, the limiting beliefs in my own mind were telling me, “You’re never going to remember this song” and “God only knows what will happen if you’re asked to harmonise”. I don’t know if it was just me feeling like that, but I have a feeling, just by seeing the looks on some of the faces of the other people in the group, that I wasn’t the only one doubting my own and the group’s ability to pull this off. But, we did it! There were some struggles along the way, but the collective feeling of accomplishment and achievement at the end of the workshop was wonderful. I think even “Teach” was impressed.
Singing’s also improved my listening skills. I’ve tuned my ear to listen more to the music, the teacher, to myself and to others. There is almost an unspoken conversation going on when two groups of singers are harmonising perfectly together. Nothing is being said but there’s still something beautiful in listening to each other and realising that we’re reliant on each other to create a great sound. Listening in this way relates to the “Take Notice” aspect of the 5 ways to wellbeing. In a world full of distractions, it can be quite liberating to turn off the phone, take notice and start listening.
Group singing is also by nature very social. I’ve made new friends and socialised with people I wouldn’t otherwise have met. We've had a lot of fun along the way, learning to laugh at ourselves and the strange sounds that sometimes come out of our mouths and we've been lucky to have had such a naturally funny teacher. ‘Connect’ is another of the 5 ways to wellbeing and I've definitely felt more connected by socialising with the group, some of whom you will see in the photo below.
A very happy bunch!
And here's a lovely quote from the longest standing (no punn intended) member of the group:
“I love to sing especially as it's just so liberating to make a loud positive noise. As a mother, I spend so much of my time keeping the peace at home so it's great to use my volume for something other than disciplining my kids 😀 Smiles all round!”, Lara Giusti.
And another quote from our vocal coach extraordinaire:
"Singing is something everyone can do, whether fun lover or professional, it's a truly uplifting experience and takes the mind to a good place much like yoga. I've even known a good vocal lesson to cure a hangover! There is something special about watching a room full of people leave their day behind them whilst letting rip vocally. Sometimes it's like you can literally see the stress floating away". Lorna Blackwood.
So, this post is my contribution to the YoungHappyMinds #WhatMakesYouHappy campaign for Mental Health Month. Singing makes me happy and I am very grateful to have rediscovered my voice:-)
Check out the #WhatMakesYouHappy competition we are running with Movellas. There are some cracking entries. And make sure you follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for daily inspiration on the Science of Happiness.