“Without music, life would be a mistake.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

I don’t know much about Nietzsche, but from what I understand he wasn’t a happy fellow.  But it’s clear by this quote that he LOVED music.  Why?  Music is empathy.

If you know me, you know I’m a musician and that music has been a crucial component of my entire life.  So, I recognize my bias here, but bear with me – I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

First, let’s take a look at what empathy is.  My favorite description of empathy comes from Theresa Wiseman via Brené Brown.  Empathy has four crucial components: 1) perspective-taking 2) staying out of judgment 3) recognizing emotion 4) communicating understanding of emotions.  (For more on this – join me in June for my first Daring Way intensive weekend!  Check the image for details.)

To further differentiate empathy from sympathy, watch this great video utilizing portions of Brené Brown’s TEDx talk: http://tinyurl.com/krrrcnq

What does this have to do with music?  Well, I’m so glad you asked.  Show of hands for those of you who have utilized music to match your mood.  Maybe you listened to “Everybody Hurts” on repeat for hours that one time your high school boyfriend dumped you (me? no…never done a thing like that.)  Or maybe you still blast “Walking on Sunshine” when you need to clean your house.  Why do we do this?

I’ve yet to find a decent article that supports my hypothesis, but two thoughts: 1) we want to know we’re not alone and 2) we want to be alone while we feel all the feels.  Irony?  Yes, but it works!  When I’m hurt, sad, angry, or <insert any other negative emotional state here> the first thing I want to do is cry.  The last thing I want to do is cry in front of another person.  So what do I do?  I turn to Spotify to find just the perfect song to express myself.  Wait, what? You say you do that too?  Huzzah!  Music is the perfect way to cultivate connection when that’s the experience we fear the most.  And all of us are wired for connection.  And in this meta way, when we connect with a song, we’re connecting with the artist who wrote the song and all other humans who are also connected to that song.  (Whoa, mind BLOWN!)

I also think the initial connection and empathy we feel while listening to music gives us the courage to reach out and actually talk to another human about our experience.  This helps alleviate shame, when we reach out beyond the music and interact with someone else.  I know after I’ve had a good cry and feel like I have the capacity to form actual sentences – that’s when I call up a BFF or chat with my husband about whatever I’m feeling.

I recently had a client tell me that crying felt unproductive. Well friends, Michael Stipe is here to tell you we all do it.

I’d like to challenge you to mindfully use your music this way.  When you’re drawn to an album or artist or song on any particular day – ask yourself why and just give it some thought.  Chances are, you’re getting a healthy dose of empathy to help you on your journey.