A tip from ‘The Happiness Project’ - Macleans.ca

A tip from ‘The Happiness Project’

All sorts of people are finding that singing, alone or in a group, can be life-changing


A tip from the 'The Happiness Project'

Looking for happiness? Try singing. That’s the advice in a new self-help book that’s striking a chord with thousands of readers. Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project has become an instant bestseller with simple prescriptions such as “Sing in the morning.” “You know, I’m a terrible singer,” Rubin told Maclean’s this week. “Everybody laughs at my singing. But one of my main focuses of my happiness project was to create a more lighthearted, calm atmosphere in my household.”

Mornings are the most hectic, says the mother of two young girls. “Everyone’s racing around and there’s a lot of whining and nagging. It can be a very unpleasant part of the day and yet it’s the beginning of the day, so it’s important to set the tone. It’s very hard to be crabby when you’re singing.”

In the book, Rubin describes a morning when one of her daughters didn’t want to go to tae kwon do class: “I wanted to snap back, ‘You always say you don’t want to go, but then you have fun.’ Instead, even though it wasn’t easy, I sang out, ‘I don’t want to go to tae kwon do—you’re a poet and didn’t know it!’ After a minute, I added, ‘I don’t give a snap about going to tap.’ ” Rubin’s daughter joined in, rhyming, “I’d rather pass gas than go to science class.” “We laughed until our stomachs hurt, and she didn’t mention tae kwon do again. This technique worked better than telling her to buck up, and it was certainly more fun.”

The author is not alone in singing the praises of song. University of North Carolina psychologist Reid Wilson believes “you can sing away your woes.” Wilson, the author of Don’t Panic: Taking Control of Anxiety Attacks, suggests choosing a familiar song, like New York Times, and making up new lyrics. Here’s his example: “My credit card is going to be late, going to be late, going to be late; my credit rating is going to be ruined, and I’ll never get a mortgage.” “The singing makes you feel ridiculous,” he says. “And it’s very hard to maintain distress when you’re doing something foolish.

You step back from the worry and put it into perspective.”

In December, the eminent University of Chicago philosophy professor Martha Nuss­baum illuminated how singing has changed her perspective when a New York Times reporter asked her, “Do you find it difficult being a single woman in her early 60s, in a culture that values youth over wisdom?”

Nussbaum answered, “I think that’s overplayed. I’m just happy being myself. I sing for an hour before dinner, and now I’m singing Cherubin’s aria from The Marriage of Figaro. It’s one way I have fun.”

Fun may not be Nussbaum’s only boost from singing. In a 2004 study on members of a professional choir in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, Frankfurt scientists found that singing strengthens the immune system. And it’s not just professional singers who benefit, according to members of an amateur singing group on Vancouver Island. Shirley Whitelaw is the founder of More Singing Please! “We’re not a choir,” she stresses. “We don’t have another word for it yet, but we’re not a choir.” The group gets together three times a week to sing for fun. “There’s no rules here. The only rule we have is you have to keep your clothes on.” Beginners “float along” learning the songs. “We sing the songs over and over again, because the joy is in singing and feeling that song.”

Nanaimo cab driver Annie Bell was among the 30 who paid the $8 drop-in fee to come sing for fun on a recent Thursday morning. Bell joined More Singing Please! five years ago when she was suffering from a rare lung disease, bronchiectasis. She was chronically ill and on antibiotics and had never sung a note in her life. Bell joined, she says, with the desperate hope that singing might help her breathe better. “My lungs were very sick and it took me a year to get the guts to go singing because I’m not a singer, and I’m so shy.” She weighed 300 lb. at the time. “But once I got there, I just loved it. Singing is good exercise. Sing from the heart! Just let it out! There’s hardly any session that somebody doesn’t cry. There’s lots of hugging—and I don’t know these people. We’re not friends away from singing. It’s just very emotional when you’re there and you’re looking at somebody and you’re singing to them.” Bells says that now she sings every day. “My lung disease has not surfaced in years. They hear me down at the ferry.” Often Bell sits in her cab, waiting at the dock for fares. “I have all these songs I’m working on, and then I realize, ‘Oh! I forgot to roll up my window.’ ”


A tip from ‘The Happiness Project’

  1. Hahaha; sounds like such fun! My daughter used to be a tough girl to wake up as a teenager (not unique you say?). She's grown up now, but when she comes over, I play "Feeling Good" by any one of Muse, Nina Simone, Adam Lambert or Micheal Buble. It makes her smile as she rises and we play it again and both sing along at the top of our lungs.

  2. I sing with the Thursday group and yes singing is so very good for the heart and soul. Its a Joy to be among so many wonderful people. Its the true way to being Happier. Beverly

  3. I have sung with the Thursday group since inception and it is manna for the soul. Thursday is now my favourite day of the week and I encourage everybody out there to sing up a storm while you do the dishes, the gardening, sit at a traffic light or just walking down the street – everyone smiles back at you and those dendrites in your brain are just a dancing.

    • Hey Pat! I am jealous. Maybe I should go and look for a choir. Shirley…Melbourne, Australia.

  4. If you're interested in a new approach to boost your happiness based on the latest positive psychology research, check out our iPhone app: Live Happy; it's based on the work of Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of "The How of Happiness" and provides a unique method to create a personalized program to increase your happiness.

    You can also learn more about the iPhone app on our Facebook page.

  5. If you're interested in a new approach to boost your happiness based on the latest positive psychology research, check out our iPhone app: Live Happy; it's based on the work of Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of "The How of Happiness" and provides a unique method to create a personalized program to increase your happiness.

    You can also learn more about the iPhone app on our Facebook page.

  6. I joined this group of singers 6 six years ago. At that time I sang Tuesday evening until a morning group was formed on Thursday mornings. So I joined the Thursday morning singers. The singing helped me with cabin fever, the blues and to be with wonderful people like Shirley and Cindi. This wonderful group of singers helped me with a rough chapter in my live. They would sing every Thusdays while I was down in Victoria on Vancouver Island having radiation treatment. They would visualize me in the middle of the circle and sing “I am here, here in my body”. The vibration assisted me on the road to wellness. I go every Thursday morning. There maybe the odd time when I can’t be there but the following Thursday I am back to sing my heart out. I have special bonds with many of the singers in the group. I come home happy, refreshed and at peace with everything.

  7. The growth of the singing-for-the-love-of-it-movement seems to have taken hold on Vancouver Island! Finding my 'own voice' and hearing harmonies surrounding me at these gatherings, is a source of all-absorbing JOY! Julia – so glad you could join us on our 'Singing Island' — your article is helping to fill the planet with harmony!

  8. If you want to sing with us, check out http://www.moresingingplease.com. Clik on "Singing Groups" for info.
    We have e groups in the Nanaimo area.
    Everyone is welcome at any time, no singing experience necessary, just a desire to sing with others.
    We had a great time this morning, singing "Tu-ay, tu-ay" a thankyou song from Ghana.!

  9. Having always wanted to sing and been told to stop howling whenever the radio was on I stopped howling and just yearned to sing instead. Thanks to Thursday mornings I was finally able to let it all out and sing. The freedom to express my voice has been the most wonderful gift from this fabulous group of people. After only 10 months with the group for first time in my life I was able to sing Christmas carols with joy, confidence and a great big smile.

  10. She looks really happy on the photo. Great article. Very inspiring.