How To Create A Playlist To Influence Just About Anything…Including Happiness

Do you remember “mixed tapes”? Fifteen to twenty of your favorite songs on a cassette tape, or if you were born after 1995, a CD, and nowadays it would be called a playlist. You make them for your best friend, love interest, or a particular life event that could do with a rockin’ soundtrack.

A few weeks back, I shared a playlist and blog of “hopespiration.” I loved spending the time creating this playlist for myself and for you. That being said, music preference is highly subjective. And while I enjoyed sharing my playlists and reflections (and will continue to share monthly playlists) I also know that my music catalog is potentially very different from yours. This post shows my process in creating one of these playlists so that you might create them for your own music, needs, preferences, and loved ones.

There is an intervention in positive psychology called a “positive portfolio” In this intervention; you gather items that support an element of well-being you wish to enhance. It can be any element of well-being - meaning, joy, awe, gratitude, relationships, achievement, etc... Once you have gathered these items, you then spend some time reflecting on your positive portfolio bolstering the element of well-being selected. One of my favorite portfolios to make… playlists!

I love making playlists for friends and family. I make them for their breakups, celebrations, trials, and for basic “music education.” But here’s the thing: I cannot just send the playlist. Most of the time I like to write out cool tidbits for each song and explain why I put them on the playlist. This reflection on the song is important. While there isn’t a lot of research done on the impact of lyrics specifically, (trust me, I tried damn hard to find it!) when you look at the field of positive psychology, musicology, music therapy, and the humanities you’ll find that it’s not far fetched to say that lyrics matter. Perhaps it is how we engage with lyrics, how we listen to them or select them, but there is something worth noticing. So how might we go about engaging with lyrics to support our lives?

Maybe you made a playlist with lyrics that you want to subconsciously influence your birthday party so that everyone is in a great mood, or songs about family and love at a family reunion so that any possible tension can be dissipated, or songs about beautiful mornings and being kind so that your drive on the way to work/school starts off on the right foot. See? Aren’t playlists fun and full of possibilities?! *Nerd alert: I’m way into the power of lyrics.

I made it super easy for you do to this with step-by-step guide below. So, pick your favorite music platform and without further ado:

4 Steps To Creating A Playlist to Influence Just About Anything

1) Get clear on what you want to support.

Grief? Hope? Relationships? Purpose? Whatever it may be; you want to make sure you know what your intention is before you dive into your music catalog. The number of times I’ve scanned my iTunes in search of songs for a particular playlist only to get sidetracked by one of my favorite #tbt …(hello, boyband jams). Needless to say, I would get nowhere fast!

Understanding your intention and the area you need support is key. This is sometimes easier said than done. For example, say you have had some tests done at the doctor’s office, and you’re waiting to hear back from the results. Do you want to feel brave? Do you want to feel trust that things will be ok? Do you want to feel triumphant? Pick you desired feeling before you jump into the song choice. This part takes some serious thought, but is very much worth the effort.

2) Name your playlist.

Ok now that you have your intention; create the name of your playlist with your intention as the title. I like to get cutsie and clever sometimes (in case you didn’t notice “hopespiration” is not a word…) but make sure that when you read it, you know what the playlist is for. That way when you want to go back and feel brave… you know that “Brave” or “Bravery Train” is the playlist for you!

3) Pick your tunes *hint: this takes time!

I like to start with the songs that come to mind right away. Then I go back and view by artist, then I go back again and go through song titles. Some songs feel pretty obvious and then when I listen to the lyrics the song is actually about fill-in-the-blank-not-my-intention. So as tempting as it is to listen to this unrelated song or to just add it anyway... Don’t ☺ I mean, I’m not the boss of you, so do what you want. But it doesn’t fit the intention…then it shouldn’t go on this playlist.

Depending on how many songs you have access to, this process can take a long time, especially if you are mindfully thinking of the lyrics and your intention. I sometimes have my journal out and write some of the lyrics down to help me stay focused. Do whatever you need to do to stick with it and take your time. If you’re making the playlist for a specific person think about the songs that they like. I know that if I’m making a playlist for a friend who hates country music, my favorite country song, no matter how applicable to the intention, isn’t the best fit.

4) Listen and enjoy!

There you have it! Your playlist to support well-being is complete. The last step is to listen to the playlist with your intention in mind. That doesn’t mean that every time you listen to the playlist you must listen to every line of every lyric (unless you want to!) But who knows, maybe listening to the lyrics of your playlist will help support, shift, or encourage you the way you wanted it to! Musical empowerment at its finest ;)

Where can you see this process being helpful? I’ll continue to create and share playlists once a month, is there a playlist you’d like me to create? Leave a comment below and I just might do it!

Playlists so far


Meaning and Music

Tricia Fox is a singer songwriter, thought leader on lyrics and wellbeing, and master of applied positive psychology from the university of Pennsylvania. Join the conversation on lyrics and well-being and to stay up to date on Tricia's music.

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