How Pharrell Williams taught me the secret of happiness at the Italian deli

How does music affect the brain
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” – Mahatma Gandhi

How does music affect the brain and why a happiness song makes us happy.

So here I am at our Italian deli store trying to figure out what makes me happy. And every time I come to this place I struggle again and again with the same decisions. Do I want healthy pesto hummus or healthy regular hummus? Do I want a medium, small or extra small container? Do I want cheese? Tomato sauce in a jar? Stuffed olives?

Then the vibrations hit my eardrum and signals are transported to my brain. Involuntary, my head and feet start rocking rhythmically and I feel my vocal cord vibrating, which emerges as a light humming sound. It feels like an instant mood enhancer or an airborne endorphins cloud has hit me.

Suddenly the decision seems very easy. I take a medium container of both kind of hummus and some extra delicious pear spread and a bottle of all natural, Vitamin E rich camelina oil.

I’m sorry to say what infected me has probably infected you too. There is evidence coming from around the world, from China to Germany and back to Australia. No, there is no cure. Only unplugging your musical device and not listening to Pharrell Williams song “Happy” will give you some short time relief.

Is that the secret to instant happiness? Simply listening to a happiness song called “Happy”? Countless fans across the world share their happiness by filming themselves grooving and moving to his song. How is that possible? You would think, that everyone has different things that make him/her happy, yet we seem so united when it comes to this tune. Can it be so simple as listening to a song on the radio?

Music releases happy chemicals in the brain.

Yes and no. Yes, because the happiness phenomenon caused by music simply could be reduced to chemicals (endorphins) that the brain releases, which make us feel so happy. From my non-composer perspective this song has probably all the stimuli needed to mix up my brain chemistry to be positive.

Maybe it’s the brilliant arrangement, the simple lyrics with easy repetitions or the rapid tempo? Whatever it is, my brain response to the stimuli with emotional happiness. Did that answer the question how does music affect the brain? I guess there is more.

Unfortunately by the time I have reached home my happy chemicals seemed to wear off and I need to find a new way to turn them on again. So, finding happiness is a little bit more complex than simply listening to Pharrell’s happiness song over and over again.

But let’s expand this experiment theoretically. Let’s say I would torture my brain by listening to a never-ending loop of the happiness song. I bet the same signals that have reached my brain at the Italian deli store and lead to an extra workout dancing session would now have a very different impact on my brain chemistry.

After two hours of listening to the happiness song I probably would not be happy at all but close to jumping off the balcony.

What has changed?

Maybe this example from my childhood will enlighten you. Every Easter included a visit to the relatives. And every Easter I would get great treats I really loved. One Easter I got a great basket with delicious looking average size chocolate eggs and one Lindt chocolate bunny wrapped in golden paper foil. I was thrilled and very happy about all my treats.

My brain was busy making happy chemicals until I discovered that others would get a huge chocolate egg in addition to the other treats. And of course that made me suddenly very unhappy and apparently my brain started making unhappy chemicals. Instead of feeling grateful for what had been given to me, I now felt rejected that others deserved more chocolate than I.

Feeling happy is an inner state of mind. It’s the way we think about life.

So there it is – one of the most important ingredients to happiness. It’s our thoughts and how we respond to things that happen to us.

  • Comparing
    We can be happy with a car that is well functioning and brings us to the places we like or we can compare our old Jetta to the neighbors brand new Audi and come to the conclusion theirs is better, which makes us unhappy.
  • Exaggeration
    We can be grateful for all the nights that we were running outside in dry weather or we can make a drama about the one time when it actually rained and our most favorite shirt got wet and dirty.
  • Jumping to negative conclusions
    We can enjoy your trip to a beautiful new country and inhale every new experience and scent or expect to be mugged at every corner and not venture away from the safety of the resort.
  • Greed
    We can be happy with winning a small jackpot with the 50/50 ticket or become greedy and “invest” all the money into a “Chances are very low that you win this prize”-ticket.
  • All or nothing
    We can agree to disagree or not give up until we are officially right and the other admits that he/she is totally wrong.
  • Perfectionism
    We are happy with an outcome or we can keep going until it is 100% to your satisfaction and 200% perfect.

These are the reasons why Pharrell Williams is such a great teacher of happiness:

  1. His arrangement stimulates the release of happy chemicals in our brain.
  2. His lyrics deliver the secret message of achieving real happiness: “Think positive! Have happy thoughts! Have no limits, do what you want to do! Do not care what others think of you! Don’t dwell on bad things in life! Then you are being happy and nothing can bring you down.”
  3. What he does, what he says and what he thinks are in harmony. We can feel that he truly is happy and that this song comes from this heart. That’s why he succeeds.

In an interview with Oprah, Pharrell is moved to tears by the song’s unexpected success. He say’s: “It’s overwhelming because it’s like, I love what I do and I just appreciate the fact that people have believed in me for so long that I could make it to this point to feel that.”

When will you start to DO what you LOVE and feel THAT happiness?

Read this blog post written by Belle Beth Copper about a more scientific approach on how does music affect the brain.

Share this post if you like what you read.
Sign up for the email notification if you don’t want to miss any of these topics still to come:

Activity and Happiness
Not only thoughts influence the brain chemistry. Endorphins are released during exercise, excitement, float session, spicy food consumption, pain, and sex. Dopamine is released when we achieve a long sought after goal, get a promotion, plan a delicious meal or explore a new city. Serotonin flows when we feel important.

Diet and Happiness
If we want to feel happy, chemicals (hormones) have to be released in our body. These happy chemicals (and the unhappy chemicals) are made from the food we eat. If we don’t provide the raw materials that the body needs to produce the happy hormones, happiness becomes a difficult goal.

Added hormones and Happiness
To make things even more complicated, there are things in life that can throw off the chemical balance. Dairy may contain the pregnancy hormones of the cow. Meat may contain grow hormones that were fed to the animal.

Other chemicals and Happiness
Many household and industrial products contain substances that interfere with the synthesis, secretion, transport, binding, action or elimination of happy hormones. BPA in plastic, lead and arsenic in drinking water, mercury in fish or amalgam fillings. You basically can eat happiness and eat unhappiness. A healthy diet is a happy diet.

Sleep and Happiness
Hormones are produced at night when you sleep. The quality of your sleep equals the quality of your happy hormones.

Relationships and Happiness
“Love is not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

How does music affect the brain

How Pharrell Williams taught me the secret of happiness at the Italian deli by
Tanja Knapp
About the Author
Tanja Knapp

Tanja Knapp is an Explorer, Adventurer and Happiness Hunter currently camping in beautiful Vancouver, Canada. Her roots are in Germany where she grew up on a remote farm. A colony of abnormal cells in her cervix taught her the lesson that would change her life forever. Life doesn't get better by chance, it get better by change. She truly believes in creating happiness & health through constant adapting, growing and evolving. Her super power is curiosity. With her blog she likes to inspire others to explore uncharted territory.

If she is not busy writing, running, swimming or cycling, she is expanding her knowledge, exploring the World, and taking on new challenges.

She is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and graduated with an Honors diploma in Holistic Nutrition from the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition in 2013. She obtained a Hospitality certification in 1998 and a Marketing Communications diploma in 2004. She has worked both in Europe and North America.


    • Tanja Knapp says

      Thank you Terry. You make my happy chemicals having a party!
      “Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and thrill of creative effort.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.