Wellbeing is all the rage. Ever since Lord Layard put happiness on the political agenda, the wellbeing thing has been a hot topic. In the academic world, there’s wellbeing research centres and specialist groups (like this one at LSE), think tanks are all over it (NEF’s wellbeing centre, for example), there’s charities devoted to promoting wellbeing (like Action for Happiness) and it’s hit the public imagination with magazines such as the imaginatively titled Wellbeing growing in popularity all the time.
I guess I’ve been swept along with this tide of wellbeing cultivation along with everyone else, but for me there’s been one particular thing which I believe in so much I’ve had moments of being almost evangelical about it. Five years ago I joined a choir. To be precise, it was the wonderful Manchester Larks singing group, run by the inspirational natural voice network practitioner Faith Watson. From the very beginning, singing with this marvellous group of Mancunians was a tonic, a more or less instant pick-me-up, the effects of which lasted all week.
No surprise then that I was pleased to see Mariam Akhtar’s piece in the Positive Psychology News Daily yesterday. When I meet someone who I think would benefit from singing in a group or choir (i.e. everyone!), I have my own little spiel about why it’s such a marvellous thing to do. I talk about the benefits of connecting with other people in a group, the particular magic of creating harmony together, the physical rewards of using your voice, the challenge of learning to listen more closely, and the joy of creating a gorgeous sound. I’m quite fond of citing evidence from research studies that group singing is an excellent anti-depressant, and has physical health benefits too.
Mariam Akhtar’s article on the positive power of singing together does the same sort of thing a little more elegantly. She goes through each of NEF’s evidence based five ways to wellbeing and showing how singing in a group allows you to kill five birds with one harmonious stone.
Connect – the choir is a community
Take Notice – you will be fully present with no effort
Be Active – singing is an aerobic activity
Keep Learning – the harmonies, the words, the physical skill
Give – be part of the positive mood contagion, whether through performing, or to the rest of the choir
I miss my Tuesday night singing with the Manchester Larks, not least because the people there became good friends, but also because we were particularly lucky to be led by Faith, who I have to say is not only a warm, inclusive, fun leader, but also an especially talented arranger. I’ve been having fun trying out other singing groups in London, and have so far been to several, ranging from the pretty serious Islington Choral Society to the more informal Hackney Harmony Community Singing Group. I haven’t quite decided which one I’ll settle in to, but with all these reasons why it’s good for me, there’s no chance of group singing being something I let fall by the wayside.