I started creating this project last summer because I was heading into my final year of University, and I was very aware that exams were lurking ominously on the horizon. However, I never got round to finishing it. But now that we’re all on lockdown, I thought it might be a good way of trying to keep people’s spirits up during this crazy time.
Many people are separated from loved ones and many are having to spend time in self-isolation. With all the turmoil and uncertainty that the whole COVID-19 situation has brought, it can be really difficult to stay positive. At the time, this project was going to be aimed at helping people cope with the stress and anxiety of final year. But there’s no doubt that looking after our mental health is something that everyone should be aware of, especially with life being what it is right now.
As part of my degree, I’ve had the opportunity to study Buddhism and its teachings in-depth. What I’ve found most interesting is that the main objective of all their values and principles - despite the negative, world-rejecting rep Buddhism often gets - is the goal of achieving happiness.
All you have to do is glance at the ‘Self-Help’ section of any bookstore, and a surprisingly large portion of the books will have some grounding in Buddhism, whether it’s about mindfulness, meditation or something more spiritual.
At the same time as learning all this, outside of my studies I was seeing how today’s music is increasingly centred around issues of mental health, with artists being inspiringly vulnerable and open about their struggles with depression, anxiety, and numerous other issues.
Lots of people talk about how music is healing, and we all know from experience how easy it is to get lost in a song to escape the stresses of real life, or to empathise with the emotion being expressed by the artist, or perhaps to just feel inspired and rejuvenated by an uplifting anthem.
Whatever we mainly use music for, it definitely makes us feel something, and it seems to resonate with us in a way that few other mediums can. How often have we been in a bit of a rut, but after listening to something upbeat, we feel a little brighter? Music can deeply influence our mood, mindset and outlook in a matter of minutes.
So why not treat music as a form of self-help?
In Howard C. Cutler’s historic book, The Art of Happiness, which essentially takes the form of an extended interview with the Dalai Lama, he offers an unprecedented insight into his teachings on how to cultivate happier mental states. The book can be broken down into a step-by-step process of how to achieve happiness.
Okay, this is oversimplifying it a little. But essentially there are 30 key teachings that the Dalai Lama suggests can help us improve our mental wellbeing, and give us the best chance of being happy.
The aim of this project, then, is to create a happiness playlist, with each of the Dalai Lama’s steps being paired up with a song that embodies his teaching.
The Dalai Lama is generally seen as one of the wisest humans on earth. He is renowned for the peaceful aura he emits, and how he always seems to have a smile on his face. So if I’m going to trust anyone’s guidance on how to be happy, his must be a good place to start. Because, putting aside his role as a spiritual figurehead, a human rights activist, and a world peace advocate - he seems like a man who has genuinely found happiness himself.
I want to stress that even though this project will be heavily influenced by Buddhist teachings, you don’t have to be a Buddhist to find this useful.
Buddhism has at its core a very practical methodology that can be applied to people from all walks of life. It looks at the world and asks what is wrong with it, and answers this with the obvious: people are suffering. The mind is where this suffering takes hold, so this is where our focus should be. It then sets out a roadmap to happiness, to training the mind, to improving our mental health.
I’ll be adding a new post and song each day, so it’ll be kind of like the 30-day song challenge that’s been going around online. For each song, and each corresponding step, I’ll give a little explanation, explore the lesson we can draw from it, and also hopefully have some fun with it. After all, I’m pretty sure ‘Being overly serious’ isn’t going to be on the list…
You’re welcome to go along with my song choices and stick with the playlist that I end up with. But my music taste is admittedly a little eclectic, and you might not want Travis Scott, One Direction and Kenny Chesney all in one playlist together… So please feel free to create your own playlist based on the daily teachings, especially because music is so subjective, and that way you can select songs that hold a special meaning for you personally.
Hopefully this project can be, if nothing else, a source of positivity for people in these scary, uncertain times of lockdown and self-isolation. From all the amazing Instagram Live performances that artists have been doing, it’s clear that music is something that can really bring us all together in times like this.
To kickstart the project, I can think of no-one better than the man who made mental health something that was acceptable to rap about, and inspired an entire wave of emo-rappers that now dominate the charts - Kid Cudi. The first Happiness x Music Project song is aptly named, ‘Pursuit of Happiness’.
The post will be uploaded on Sunday 19th April - follow this blog to get the notification!
Here’s to Happiness,
If there is any merit in this project, may it bring happiness and health to my family, friends and loved ones