“Ah, music," he said, wiping his eyes. "A magic beyond all we do here!” – Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling

It is nearly impossible to trace when people first started playing instruments for enjoyment, but historians agree it was around 50,000 years ago, when animal bones were made into flutes. What started as a novelty has grown into a daily necessity for so many people around the world. Chances are, most of you reading this would have listened to music in the past hour. But maybe even a great wizard like Dumbledore might struggle to answer the question, ‘why does music make us feel good?’

Dumbledore shows off his dj skills on a turn-table

It’s only in recent years that scientists have found that the answer lies with a chemical called dopamine. Without going into full chemistry-mode here, let’s break it down a little. When you listen to a song you really like, dopamine is released into your brain. The effect of this is simple – you feel good! Brain scans have shown that this dopamine rush is at its peak when you reach the part of the song you love most or in the 15 seconds leading up to it. Other situations when dopamine is released into your brain can be when you eat a food you love such as chocolate, or when you’re in the presence of someone you love.

In this age of streaming and downloads, access to music has never been easier. So much of a person’s positive life experiences are associated with music – birthdays, weddings and almost any kind of celebration. But now you know that in many cases, music isn’t just a by-product of your good mood – often it’s contributing to why you’re in a good mood.

By the way, what sort of music do you think Dumbledore would be into?

Related reading: Cooking – meditation in disguise

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