If you're the kind of person who spontaneously bursts into a rousing rendition of Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" while walking down the street, we have good news. Research shows that just about any type of singing, professional or otherwise, can make people happier, more trusting and less anxious.
Singing is thought to spur the release of oxytocin, a hormone that increases intimacy and trust. As a result, singers are capable of all kinds of good feelings and attendant bonding.
Which is to say: Singing makes people better friends.
In fact, singing can be as beneficial as yoga, according to Björn Vickhoff, a researcher at Sweden's University of Gothenberg who observed the heartbeats of 15 teenagers as they sang in unison. The regulated, controlled breathing that occurs while singing is similar to yoga breathing, he said.
"It helps you relax, and there are indications it does provide a heart benefit," Vickhoff said.
British researchers Alison Pawley and Daniel Mullensiefen found something similar in the 30 nights of "field research" they conducted for a study investigating "contextual and musical factors" that lead people to join public sing-alongs in, say, a pub. They found that participating in a public sing-along can encourage social interaction, increase the general sense of revelry and lead to more social bonding (among the most popular songs they observed people singing along to were "We Are the Champions" by Queen and "Teenage Dirtbag" by Wheatus).
In every way, then, singing helps people be less anxious and all-around happier, more social beings.
That's largely because singing releases endorphins, "the brain's naturally occurring opiates," which are also released during exercise and can make people feel euphoric. Researchers in the U.K. found that active performance of music — expressive, uninterrupted singing while clapping or dancing, for example — can increase a person's tolerance for pain, suggesting that endorphins were being released in large quantities.
Stacy Horn, the author of Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing With Others, writes that singing also can release serotonin, "a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of euphoria and contentment." And Maria Sandgren, a researcher at Stockholm University in Sweden, observed 330 choral singers and found that both men and women reported that they felt more positively after singing. There's a reason we call it harmony when people get along.
And it doesn't even matter if singers sound good — even bad singers still reap the same rewards. Researchers at the University of Sheffield observed that group singing, even if the people involved are amateur singers at best, still led to "considerable emotional, social and cognitive benefits" and was therapeutic to participants. "[There] may be very little difference in the enjoyment of generating musical sounds at the most professional and the most amateur levels," the researchers state.
Let's review: Singing can help people be calmer. Singing can release endorphins and oxytocin, which create feelings of trust, intimacy and euphoria. It makes people exactly the kind of friend you want around when the going gets tough. Maybe it is time for some karaoke.