Good Health

Many reports have been produced regarding our health and wellbeing and most reveal the obvious: too many pills, too much stress, and too little employment, food, housing, education, or security. With evidence showing positive results from non-invasive, non-chemical, community-based, and artistically-driven medical remedies, research in science and health supports musicking as a means of improving the quality of our lives.

From research in gamma brain waves and dopamine pathways to studies in bouncing balls and iPod programs, musicking has been shown to produce positive results with not only gait, speech, and memory issues, but also with more serious medical ailments including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and fibromyalgia syndrome. Likewise, studies in addiction and mental health have shown that developing social connections through community involvement, group participation, and many other musicking opportunities can have a profound effect on an individual’s ability to manage relationships in today’s society.

Governments are recognizing the benefits of communal creative activity. The United Kingdom, for example, has entered a phase of Social Prescribing recommending that doctors promote arts solutions for ailments such as dementia, psychosis, lung conditions, and mental health issues. Matt Hancock, British Health Secretary, recently spoke about the initiative: “We’ve been fostering a culture that’s popping pills and Prozac, when what we should be doing is more prevention and perspiration. […] Social prescribing can help us combat over-medicalising people.” Recommendations include singing lessons, dance lessons, or simply listening to preferred music playlists.

The British government in 2018 appointed a Minister of Loneliness to address social and health issues caused by social isolation. Similar to stress, extended feelings of loneliness can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, chronic inflammation, and even dementia. Creating programs that promote individual connection through communal activity, including many musicking opportunities, is one of their mandates.

Doctors in Montreal, Canada, are prescribing free (government-funded) tours of Quebec’s Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to address mental health issues. Studies have shown that visits to museums can increase levels of serotonin, a chemical released in the brain that mitigates depression.

The natural release of desirable brain chemicals through prescribed activity is a growing field in music therapy. Dopamine, a “happiness” neurotransmitter, is the chemical released in the brain that is most often associated with pleasure and reward-motivated behaviour, and it is also involved with other functions such as motor control and hormone release. Altered levels of dopamine have been linked to mental health issues, such as schizophrenia, as well as other medical conditions, such as restless legs syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Researchers at McGill University in Montreal have shown that when subjects are exposed to music they enjoy, levels of dopamine in the brain can increase by nine percent.

Musicking can provide non-invasive, non-chemical, community-based, and artistically-driven medical remedies. Musicking is healthy.

The Good Life

The education system today heavily promotes the development of critical thinking. This includes not only self-examination but also the ability to question the sources, timelines, perspectives, and motives of everything encountered. Skepticism is healthy in the pursuit of truth. Also, an awareness of conditions such as confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance helps guard against the misinformation distributed through today’s technologies.

Technology has dramatically limited our capacity for reflective examination. Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram encourage spontaneous emotional reactions and the few seconds typically allotted between receipt and response leave little time for sober second-thought or moral consideration. It is a challenge maintaining composure, and the current social and political arenas of hatred, narcissism, selfishness and bullying tend to inspire knee-jerk retributions.

Ancient Greek ideology sought to prioritize societal needs over personal needs and today’s priorities seem remarkably shallow and self-serving; the current view of happiness and success seems to be measured in yacht ownership, new cars, and large TVs. Today’s society tends to conflate the good life with an excessive abundance of both financial and material assets.

The Ancient Greeks built upon the theoretical concepts of phronesis and eudaimonia, which represent yesterday’s version of critical thinking, and created a practical application of the theory, an activity referred to as praxis. It is about not only thinking through an issue to determine the morally correct thing, but then applying the theory to do the right thing.

Aristotle’s concept of praxis begins with a focus on social responsibility and being able to live what was considered to be a good life composed of a happy and ethical existence. Well before the implementation stage, the act of praxis involves repeatedly reassessing possible outcomes. The commitment to truth and social improvement underlies all decisions. Praxial thinking is the socially-responsible extension of critical thinking. Changing the application and even challenging the knowledge are natural components of the discovery process in both critical thinking and praxial thinking.

Praxial thinking is an explicit process built on critical thinking and could support a new (yet very old) paradigm for living.