Local Current Blog

Mark Mallman talks about ‘The Happiness Playlist’ in unhappy times

Mark Mallman at The Current. (Nate Ryan/MPR)

On The Current’s Morning Show, Jill Riley got in touch with Minnesota rock auteur and musical wellness advocate Mark Mallman to talk about the psychological and physiological benefits of listening to happy music.

Jill Riley: We thought since we’re going to get into the Coffee Break and try to kick off a week with some feel-good music, that we would get our buddy local musician Mark Mallman on the line — who wrote a book really called The Happiness Playlist. Mark, how are you doing?

Mark Mallman: Hi, I’m waking up and I’m feeling pretty good.

So Mark, what have you been doing during this time of social distancing?

I’ve been doing a lot of self-care. I’ve been writing a lot. And I’ve been watching a lot of movies. But in regards to the happiness music, I did a thing when I wrote The Happiness Playlist where I listened to only happy music for six months, and I journaled it. And that’s like the premise of the book.

And so I’m curious, Mark. Did it work?

Yeah, it works. I mean, everybody who’s listening to music now knows the power of music. I like to follow my body. If a song makes me dance, if I can move to it, I know that it’s going to bring me to a place of happiness and beyond happiness, a place of calm. That’s I think one of the essential things I learned from the experiment was to, to get to happiness. But then after happiness, find a place of peace.

Because you can almost will yourself to be happy or you have the tools — like your favorite songs or songs that make you feel something — but then there are the maintenance parts. How do you stay happy once the music ends?

There’s an amount of anxiety, palpable anxiety right now right with the pandemic. But also there’s an amount of anxiety surrounding the word “happy.” People screaming “happy birthday,” singing “Happy Birthday” at your parties, kind of forcing you to smile. But I found that if you’ve listened with your body…when I’m in the studio when I’m mixing, I tend to listen with my lower back, if that makes sense. When a song fits right, when the mix is right, I feel at my lower back and my shoulders go down.

So when I was dealing with panic anxiety, in the form of PTSD that I had, I was paying attention a lot to what songs would tense my shoulders and what songs would relax my shoulders. And that’s what I’m talking about. When I say listen to your body, listen with your body. See how your body responds to a song. And if your body responds with movement, or with calm, throw it on your list, you know, throw it on your playlist and then use it medicinally. When you need it, it’s not going to change everything. Happy music is not going to solve problems, but it’s gonna give you more power.

We’re just trying to keep the music rolling for people…feel a little normalcy, but also, let’s add in some optimism and some hope that better days are ahead, right?

Music can increase your dopamine levels, and music can unite people. It can remind you of times in the past, and so if you can collectively recognize this music that incites within you some type of positive mental attitude…you know? I don’t want to use the term “weapon,” but you can go and you can weaponize your emotions. Something that I love is this quote: “The brain thinks it’s the most important organ in the body.” And so music helps you bypass that ego and it just gets you in touch with your true guru.

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