5 years, 1 month, and 23 days. Home is where the heart is.




My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

They say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.  They’re wrong.  While that may be true for some, most of us are aware of the good things going on in our lives but are often too busy to be fully present to enjoy them.  Further, we often assume those things will always be there.  We are wrong.

Life if fickle.  Control is illusory.  We think we are the masters of our fate and we are in control of our lives, but we are foolish.  Life happens.  It happens how and when it wants.  In a heartbeat, a fire could burn down everything you have worked your entire life to build,


a hurricane could reduce to rubles everything you cherished,


an inhumane creature could take your life or the lives of your loved ones.


You have but to look at our own circumstances to see the point.  I have spent chunks of my life helping others — tutoring kids; helping the elderly with groceries; prepare food for the poor; researching and writing a policy to prevent the homeless from freezing to death during inclement weather, and volunteering at that emergency shelter; providing free legal services to refugees and asylum seekers; providing free legal services to victims of domestic violence; etc.  Never in a million years could I imagine that racist thugs would collaborate with a known pedophile to harm us.

Because you never know when something near and dear to you will be taken from you, be present as much as you can each and every day to soak in all that goodness.  Don’t buy into the illusion that you’ll always have what you currently have.

Embrace your brother.  Watch over each other.  Take care of each other.  Each of you is worth more than your weight in diamonds and gold.  I would give all the wealth in the world to be with you now….

All my love, always,


P.S., I leave you with these thoughts:https://i1.wp.com/www.sunshineandhurricanes.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Collect-Memories-Not-Things-Meme.jpg

Buying New Experiences, Not Things, Tied to Happiness

Buying New Experiences, Not Things, Tied to HappinessA new study suggests that those who spend money to do things are happier than those who spend their money on possessions.

In the study, investigators determined extraverts and people who are open to new experiences are more apt to spend more of their disposable income on experiences, such as concert tickets or a weekend away, rather than hitting the mall for material items.

Investigators, led by San Francisco State University Professor, Ryan Howell, discovered the habitual “experiential shoppers” reported greater life satisfaction.

To further investigate how purchasing decisions impact well-being, Howell and colleagues have launched a website where members of the public can take free surveys to find out what kind of shopper they are and how their spending choices affect them.

Data collected through the “Beyond the Purchase” website will be used by Howell and other social psychologists.

The site is designed to study the link between spending motivations and well-being, and how money management influences our financial and purchasing choices.

In the current study, Howell and colleagues surveyed nearly 10,000 participants, who completed online questionnaires about their shopping habits, personality traits, values and life satisfaction.

“We know that being an ‘experience shopper’ is linked to greater well-being,” said Howell, whose previous research on purchasing experiences challenged the adage that money can’t buy happiness.

“But we wanted to find out why some people gravitate toward buying experiences.”

Investigators determined an individual’s personality via a model that classifies how extraverted, neurotic, open, conscientious and agreeable a person is.

People who spent most of their disposable income on experiences scored highly on the “extravert” and “openness to new experience” scales.

“This personality profile makes sense since life experiences are inherently more social, and they also contain an element of risk,” Howell said. “If you try a new experience that you don’t like, you can’t return it to the store for a refund.”

Researchers believe it may be helpful if people would realize that life satisfaction and happiness can be influenced by their spending habits.

“Even for people who naturally find themselves drawn to material purchases, our results suggest that getting more of a balance between traditional purchases and those that provide you with an experience could lead to greater life satisfaction and well-being,” he said.

The research findings are published in the Journal of Positive Psychology.




5 years, 1 month, and 12 days. Live with purpose.

Intergenerational care: Where kids help the elderly live longer

‘Good things are happening’

“When we bring children and residents together, the elderly together, you can see right away that good things are happening,” Somers said.
These “good things” are evident to any observer.
More than 10 children make their way along the garden paths into the lounge where the residents are stretching their arms and shaking their legs. Most faces in the room are smiling, and a few residents reach out to encourage the kids to come toward them specifically.
As small children roam about, trying the exercises themselves, cuddling up to residents and in some cases performing headstands, the rest of the room comes alive.
“They’re responding to an external stimulus, which is a toddler with an adorable grin fumbling towards them, carrying a toy, trying to interact,” Somers said.
The benefits in terms of health are also clear to see.
Residents “very often forget their own physical limitations, and they find that they are encouraged; they stretch themselves; they will lean up out of their chair, extend a hand, engage in conversation,” she added.


My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

First, I give you Schubert’s Ave Maria.  It is more beautiful than I can describe and my go-to when I am overwhelmed by the ugliness in the world today.  I hope it will give you as much comfort and delight as it has given me over the years.

Second, I updated the homepage for this blog to provide a roadmap.  What started out simply as letters to you about lessons I have learned over the years — hoping these lessons would help you avoid some of the pitfalls and mistakes I and others have made — has given rise to certain themes that if articulated might  help you better put these lessons into perspectives.  I copied the revised version below for your convenience.

Finally, I wanted to remind you to live life with purpose.  For some (many, actually), money or wealth is their raison d’etre.  But, that is an unwise choice.  On their deathbeds, no one asks for more time at the office making money.  Often, retirees lose their zest for life upon retirement because they lost their raison d’etre, their purpose in life.  As alluded to in the CNN article above, purpose is the zest of life … without it, we are lost and simply exist, not thrive.  I want you to thrive.

Years ago, when I sold books door to door, I met an elderly woman one early morning.  I knocked on her door, and, as we started to chat, she unloaded upon me a litany of ills that have befallen her.  After listening for a while, I asked, “Why do you get up in the morning, then?”  (Yes, I was young, and I was an idiot.  I would never be as blunt or rude today. Well, hopefully, I wouldn’t.)  At that point, she became upset and reversed herself, listing all the important things she had going on in her life and why it was important for her to get them done.  In other words, she changed her tune because she refocused on her purpose for living.

What do you live for?  I submit that you should live life to the fullest and make the world a better place along the way.  Below, in the revised homepage, are my thoughts on that.

I now leave you with my favorite quote from Hunter Thompson:


Enjoy your ride!  But, remember that you can do well by doing good along the way.

All my love, always,



My Dearest Shosh and Jaialai,

Life has its challenges and obstacles, but nothing changes that most basic, fundamental, and unadulterated truth: you two are the best things that have ever happened to me.  I am lucky to have you for my sons.

I love you with all my heart … always and forever.  Not a day passes that you are not in my thoughts, and your absence do not weigh heavily on my heart.

Current circumstances conspire to keep us apart.  But, that is only a temporary condition.  Know that everyday, I am doing my best to fight my way back to you so that I may be there to help you grow into the amazing men you will become.

These posts are but temporary solutions to fill the gap until my return. Through them, I hope to give you guidance and continue the lessons that were started from the moment you took your first breath — and took my breath away.

You will find that the overarching theme for this blog (and my life — and, hopefully, yours as well) is that WE SHOULD STRIVE TO LEAVE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE FOR HAVING LIVED.  That’s my Golden Rule.  Consequently, the Corollary is to HELP IF YOU CAN, BUT DO NO HARM IF YOU CANNOT HELP.

Specifically, how do you make the world a better place?  First, be the best YOU can be. No one can ask for more of you.

To achieve that goal, I share with you lessons I’ve learned about how to live well and what it takes to be successful in America.  Note two things: (1) I am talking specifically about what it takes to achieve what is considered to be professional success in the U.S. and not elsewhere in the world; and, (2) the focus is on success as defined by society at large and not on your personal definition of success.  Your definition may be different.  That’s OK.  But, know that if you chose that path, it would be a rougher road to hew.  The choice remains yours.

Second, fight evil wherever you find it.  This is your duty as a human being.  We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.  If not us, than who?  I am always mindful of the words of Martin Niemoller, the Protestant pastor who spoke out against the Nazi and suffered in the concentration camp as a result.  He said,

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.


Regarding my prescriptions for a life well-lived, all I can say is be brave, my sons.  Be courageous enough to be the real you and the best you possible, despite the niggling comments of others.  Be strong enough to stand up for yourselves and your visions.  Be willing to fight for them.  Also, fight injustice.  Speak out against evil.

I know these are not small things I ask of you, but the world will tend towards disorder unless energy is expended to counteract the disorder.  If not us, then who?  We are the stewards of our world.  Do try to leave it a better place by actively working to make your little corner of the world a bit better than when you first found it and by stopping those who try to destroy whatever beauty lies there. A world without beauty is not a world in which we are meant to live and thrive.

Regarding our situation, be patient, my sons.  Be strong.  Be good.  The truth will prevail.  I promise.

It took me five years to fight the Enron of Healthcare and expose their corrupt practices.  How much longer will it take to fight and expose corrupt government officials?

Until we reunite, know that I love you always and forever.

All my love, always,


5 years, 1 month, and 10 days. Always be the well-mannered gentlemen I raised you to be.




My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Always be polite — it warms the hearts of those who matter, and rankles the uncouth who expect you to descend to their level.  More importantly, what you say and do reflect on you, and I want the well-bred and the people of quality to count you among their number.  The alternative is highly undesirable, even if their number grows by leaps and bounds everyday.

It seems politeness and manners have fallen out of fashion.  How unfortunate!!!  Life is hard enough as it is without additional friction, vitriol, and rancor added to the mix simply because people cannot conform themselves to the rules of social behavior.

These people lack discipline.  One of your aunts, for example, is known for telling people off — including her bosses, siblings, or whoever — whenever she felt like it.  As you can imagine, she is the least successful among us, has been in one abusive relationship after another, and has condemned her daughter to a life of misery.  She ruined her life and the lives of those she professed to love because she simply lacked the discipline to conform herself to the rules of social behaviors.

If she’d live by herself in the wild, then she would be free to do as she pleased.  No one would care because no one would be around.  However, as soon as a community exist (and that may be a community of two), then understandings must be reached to foster better cooperation between members of the community for the good of the community as a whole.

Garrett Hardin states this best as the Tragedy of the CommonsSee, e.g., https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-tragedy-of-the-commons/; and, https://pages.mtu.edu/~asmayer/rural_sustain/governance/Hardin%201968.pdf.)  If the community has a pond from which members were free to fish and feed themselves, for example, and each member took as much as he pleased and wasted what he caught without regards to other members of the community, then, in time, there would be no more fish for anyone to enjoy.  Everyone would suffer. However, if everyone exercised discipline and conformed their behaviors to the rules of the community, then all members of the society could enjoy the fruits of the pond for a long time — assuming they used good aquaculture management and care techniques.

To put it another way, communal life is like the waltz or other fine-tuned dance.  If everyone follows the rhythm of the music and the steps of the dance, then beauty ensues.  Everyone could enjoy him or herself.  If, however, some members of the party decide to dance off-beat and to whatever steps they fancy, then chaos ensues.  Dancers around them would not know what to expect and would be unable to avoid colliding into them.  These dancers would move away, stop dancing altogether, or leave that party to find their own venue where they could dance in peace.  Joy is thereby reduced the many because of the few.  Thus, the uncouth enjoy themselves at great expense to others and exact a high price on society as a whole.  The community is fractured.

Don’t contribute to the decline of the community.  It doesn’t matter if others do.  That’s on them.  You behave well because you are well-bred and well-mannered.  If you don’t, that would be on you.

I recently heard about a couple who refused clothing ensembles carefully selected and assembled by the grandmother of the couple’s new born, who hand-carried the ensembles to give to her new grandchild.  The couple broke her heart by saying their child only wore “organic cotton grown and processed in the U.S.”  The couple claims to be highborn, but their actions belie their words.

When given a gift, the ONLY permissible response is “Thank you”  — this is especially true when you are accepting the gift on behalf of another.  To respond in any other way is simply rude and unbecoming.

Now, if the gift should be inappropriate (because it is given with expectations of returns which you find intolerable or unacceptable, because it is given to make the giver look good and you look bad, etc.), then you may say, “Thank you, but I cannot accept this gift.”  To do otherwise would be to allow them to bring you to their levels.  They cannot ascend to your level; thus, they aspire to bring you down to theirs.  Don’t let them.

Manners matter, my sons.  Behave well.  You will find yourselves in better company by behaving well than by behaving badly.  “Bad boys” may be popular in high school and later in life to the ill-bred, but they rarely ascend the ladders of success and time/history will rarely treat them kindly.

All my love, always,


5 years and 10 days. Life is sales. Be good at it by focusing on the needs of others, instead of on what you are selling — your talents, your candidacy, your idea, etc.









My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

It has been said that all of life is sales.  I cannot disagree.  Whether you realize it or not, you engage in sales tactics everyday.  You persuade a friend to go to see this movie instead of that, or do this activity instead of that.  That’s sales.  You try out for the school team or newspaper.  That’s sales.  You write an essay for college admission.  That’s sales.  You try to persuade a girl to go to the prom with you.   That’s sales.

In light of the above, in my opinion, the last image above is the most powerful.  People give up too easily.  They tried and failed, and they never try again.  That’s the Homer Simpson approach to life.


Don’t be like them.  Perseverance is critical to success.  Learn from your mistake and try again.  Success comes to those to forge on, not those who give up.

More importantly, often, people fail because they focus on themselves or their products, but not on the needs of their customers.  They forget — it’s not about them; it’s about the customer.

If you meet or exceed the expectations of the person you are pitching to, you will succeed.  Learn to focus on the needs of others and how you can help others, and you will be surprise at how people will be drawn to you.

This reminds me of additional quotes by Zig Ziglar.  Read on.

Zig Ziglar: 10 Quotes That Can Change Your Life

Zig Ziglar died today at age 86. A World War II veteran, Zig Ziglar became the top sales person in several organizations before striking out on his own as a motivational speaker and trainer. With a Southern charm and lessons grounded in Christianity, Ziglar wrote over two dozen books and amassed a following of millions who were encouraged by his lessons for success.

Below are 10 quotes from Zig Ziglar that have the power to completely change the direction of one’s life.

10) “Remember that failure is an event, not a person.”

9) “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.”

8 ) “People often say motivation doesn’t last. Neither does bathing—that’s why we recommend it daily.”

 7) “There has never been a statue erected to honor a critic.”

6) “People don’t buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons.”

 5) “Expect the best. Prepare for the worst. Capitalize on what comes.”

4) “If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere.”

3) “A goal properly set is halfway reached.”

2) “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.”

1) “If you can dream it, you can achieve it.”


Have a good attitude, be a good friend, work hard, and enjoy a good life, my sons.

All my love, always,


P.S., please do not mistaken this post as an encouragement to become a salesman.  It is an honest profession and there is nothing wrong with it, but I would rather you pursue a career in which you can create something for the betterment of the world — be it an idea, an improved product, a new product, or simply something that brings light into someone’s life.  You are capable of so much more than selling the wares of others.  I, for example, sell ideas and solutions to people’s legal and healthcare problems.  That said, if sales is your vocation or avocation, then I fully support you.


4 years, 10 months, and 14 days. Happy Thanksgiving, my sons.


My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

I hope you will have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day, surrounded by family and loved ones.  At the very least, you have each other.

Everyday, I am thankful for you two.  You are the best of me.  You are bright, inquisitive, funny, witty, well-mannered, and handsome.  You are amazing!  Don’t ever forget who you are.

Circumstances are difficult now because we cannot be together.  But, that too shall pass.

For now, be thankful for what you have: each other, cousins who love you, aunts and uncles who love you (but are kept away by your greedy, vicious, and spiteful mother), your health, your intelligence, a safe home to protect you from the cold, food to fill your stomach, clean water,  clean air, warm clothes, a warm bed, shoes, etc.


I want you to take time today to think of all the things for which you are grateful.  Research has repeatedly shown that gratitude brings a lot of health benefits, including helping you become more patient, improving your relationships, improving self-care, helping you sleep, stopping over-eating, easing depression, and giving you lasting happiness.  http://time.com/5026174/health-benefits-of-gratitude/.

In Praise of Gratitude

Expressing thanks may be one of the simplest ways to feel better.

The Thanksgiving holiday began, as the name implies, when the colonists gave thanks for their survival and for a good harvest. So perhaps November is a good time to review the mental health benefits of gratitude — and to consider some advice about how to cultivate this state of mind.

The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness (depending on the context). In some ways gratitude encompasses all of these meanings. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.

In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.

People feel and express gratitude in multiple ways. They can apply it to the past (retrieving positive memories and being thankful for elements of childhood or past blessings), the present (not taking good fortune for granted as it comes), and the future (maintaining a hopeful and optimistic attitude). Regardless of the inherent or current level of someone’s gratitude, it’s a quality that individuals can successfully cultivate further.

Research on gratitude

Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have done much of the research on gratitude. In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.

One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.

Another leading researcher in this field, Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions on 411 people, each compared with a control assignment of writing about early memories. When their week’s assignment was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores. This impact was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for a month.

Of course, studies such as this one cannot prove cause and effect. But most of the studies published on this topic support an association between gratitude and an individual’s well-being.

Other studies have looked at how gratitude can improve relationships. For example, a study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.

Managers who remember to say “thank you” to people who work for them may find that those employees feel motivated to work harder. Researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania randomly divided university fund-raisers into two groups. One group made phone calls to solicit alumni donations in the same way they always had. The second group — assigned to work on a different day — received a pep talk from the director of annual giving, who told the fund-raisers she was grateful for their efforts. During the following week, the university employees who heard her message of gratitude made 50% more fund-raising calls than those who did not.

There are some notable exceptions to the generally positive results in research on gratitude. One study found that middle-aged divorced women who kept gratitude journals were no more satisfied with their lives than those who did not. Another study found that children and adolescents who wrote and delivered a thank-you letter to someone who made a difference in their lives may have made the other person happier — but did not improve their own well-being. This finding suggests that gratitude is an attainment associated with emotional maturity.

Ways to cultivate gratitude

Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier, or thinking they can’t feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.

Here are some ways to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis.

Write a thank-you note. You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you letter expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person’s impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude letter a month. Once in a while, write one to yourself.

Thank someone mentally. No time to write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.

Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one thoughts about the gifts you’ve received each day.

Count your blessings. Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — that you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.

Pray. People who are religious can use prayer to cultivate gratitude.

Meditate. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. Although people often focus on a word or phrase (such as “peace”), it is also possible to focus on what you’re grateful for (the warmth of the sun, a pleasant sound, etc.).

Emmons RA, et al. “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Feb. 2003): Vol. 84, No. 2, pp. 377–89.

Grant AM, et al. “A Little Thanks Goes a Long Way: Explaining Why Gratitude Expressions Motivate Prosocial Behavior,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (June 2010): Vol. 98, No. 6, pp. 946–55.

Lambert NM, et al. “Expressing Gratitude to a Partner Leads to More Relationship Maintenance Behavior,” Emotion (Feb. 2011): Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 52–60.

Sansone RA, et al. “Gratitude and Well Being: The Benefits of Appreciation,” Psychiatry (Nov. 2010): Vol. 7, No. 11, pp. 18–22.

Seligman MEP, et al. “Empirical Validation of Interventions,” American Psychologist (July–Aug. 2005): Vol. 60, No. 1, pp. 410–21.


Learn to live a life of gratitude, my sons.  It will make you happier human beings.  The ungrateful and the entitled are but miserable shits.  They are takers (not givers), and life is all about them.  Don’t be like them.  In fact, stay away from the likes of such.

All my love, always,


4 years, 10 months, and 10 days. Looking out for #1 … isn’t necessarily a good thing. Learn to be grateful for others make you happier and healthier.



Why gratitude is good for youth

Although gratitude, as a social emotion, has long been considered a powerful ingredient of health and well-being for both individuals and societies, for a long time no systematic attempt had ever been made to deeply explore its development in youth.

However, initial research demonstrated that, when compared with their less grateful (and more materialistic) peers, grateful youth are happier and more satisfied with their lives, friends, family, neighborhood, and selves. They also report more hope, greater engagement with their hobbies, higher GPAs—and less envy and depression….

How gratitude builds relationships

In describing the design of his curriculum, Bono writes, “Gratitude interventions…should let students appreciate the different benefits and benefactors in their lives for themselves. Let’s go beyond lists and dry journals. When people ‘get’ us and help us through tough times, gratitude grows.”

As students learn gratitude, they are also learning about the concepts of intention and benefit: how others deliberately take actions that make our lives better, inspiring us to feel grateful. As Bono and gratitude researcher Jeffrey Froh explain:

  • Acts of kindness that inspire gratitude are usually done on purpose, with intention. Someone has noticed us, thought about what we need, and chosen to do something to meet that need. Reflecting on the intentions behind these acts deepens our sense of gratitude.
  • Each act of kindness has a cost to the person who performs it. The cost may include time, effort, or something that was given up, as well as any financial cost. When we understand those costs, we gain a deeper appreciation of the person who acted in a caring way.
  • Others’ acts of kindness benefit us personally in ways that may be material, emotional, or social. Noticing and acknowledging the ways we benefit from others’ actions enhances our gratitude.


My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

On days when I’m heart-heavy, like today, I turn to music and Greater Good Magazine to help lift me out of my funk.  Self-care is important.  Do what it take to survive and fight another day.

This may seem at at odds with the title of this post, but it is not.  It is complementary.  If you are down in the dumps, you are no good to anyone — including yourself.  Take care of your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health first.

But, in the course of that effort, you will find that being grateful and helping others go a very long way in making you happier and healthier, and lifting your spirits.  It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s true.

And, don’t forget to listen to good and meaningful music.

Five Ways Music Can Make You a Better Person

Can listening to music change your behavior for the better?

People in the United States spend an average of 32 hours listening to music each week, an increase of five and a half hours over last year. That’s a lot of time—more than ever before. Has this influenced your behavior or the behavior of those around you?

Some people certainly think it can have a negative impact—remember Tipper Gore’s crusade against swear words and “the indecent liberties some entertainers take with [our] children”? However, studies have also explored possible relationships between music and positive social behaviors.

In particular, research suggests that three aspects of music—its emotional resonance, its lyrical content, and its unique way of synchronizing groups of people—may have the power to invoke good deeds. Here’s a list of the research-tested ways music can have a positive impact on you and your world.

1. Listening to uplifting music may make you happier—and possibly more generous

We’ve all felt strong emotions listening to music. Sad songs may bring us to tears, while joyful music can make us feel euphoric. While melancholy music can move us in fascinating ways, there is power in that second category, too. Indeed, one way music may make us better people is by making us happier—and therefore more likely to give of ourselves.

In a study by Adrian North, Mark Tarrant, and David Hargreaves, over 600 users of a university gym listened to either uplifting, top-20 singles or annoying avant-garde computer music while they worked out. They were later asked either to sign a petition in support of a charity (an easy task) or to distribute leaflets for the charity (a more demanding task).

While almost all participants from both groups signed the petition, significantly more of the participants from the up-tempo music group agreed to help distribute leaflets, suggesting that some music may make you more willing to expend energy and time to help others.

Other research shows that there is a feedback loop between happiness and generosity—feeling happier makes people more likely to give and vice versa. So, while more studies are needed to confirm the relationship, the results from the gym study suggest not only that music may be a good way to make people feel happier but also that this increased happiness may make people more generous.

2. Songs with “prosocial” lyrics may make you more helpful and empathic

Happy lyrics from upbeat songs may not have as much of an impact on people’s behavior as “prosocial” lyrics advocating kindness and helpfulness—think Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World.” While sometimes these lyrics may seem sappy or saccharine, they also may have the ability to change the way we think and act—at least in the short term.

For example, one study by Tobias Greitemeyer found that people who had listened to music with prosocial lyrics (such as “peace on earth to everyone that you meet”) were significantly more likely to think prosocial thoughts compared to those who had listened to songs with neutral lyrics. If a person was presented with the cue “g_____e,” they were more likely to suggest a positive word such as “give” over a neutral word like “guide” if they had listened to a song with prosocial lyrics. The impact went beyond word associations: The people who heard prosocial lyrics were also more likely to donate money they earned from participating in the experiment.

In another study by Greitemeyer, people who had listened to music with prosocial lyrics picked up more pencils for an experimenter who pretended to spill them accidentally, were more likely to agree to do further unpaid experiments and spent more time doing them, and gave more money away in an economic game when compared with people who had listened to music with neutral lyrics. Further analysis found that this effect was due to increased interpersonal empathy in the people who had listened to the prosocial lyrics.

When you tell someone to heal the world through song lyrics, it appears as if they’re actually more likely to try.

While both of these studies were limited in that they looked only at the short-term effect of listening to songs with positive lyrics, Greitemeyer suggests that repeated exposure to prosocial media might prove to have profound effects.

“Repeated encounters with prosocial media may yield long-term changes in personality through the development and construction of knowledge structures,” writes Greitemeyer. In other words, “when people may repeatedly listen to prosocial songs, the positive effects on prosocial behavior might be even more pronounced.”

3. Listening to prosocial songs may change how you spend your money

In one experiment, almost 800 French restaurant customers ate lunch or dinner while listening to music with prosocial lyrics or music with neutral lyrics—or music not selected for its lyrical content. Restaurant patrons who had listened to the prosocial music were significantly more likely to leave a tip—and their tips were bigger than the others’.

However, a more recent study by Nicolas Ruth found that guests who visited a German café while listening to music with prosocial lyrics tipped the same amount as those who listened to songs with neutral lyrics. That said, Ruth observed a different positive behavior: Guests who listened to the prosocial lyrics were significantly more likely to buy organic fair trade coffee.

In his paper, Ruth suggests a couple of possibilities for why this experiment failed to see an increase in tipping: Maybe it’s because tipping is viewed differently in Germany, or perhaps the prosocial impulse led people to choose to support fair trade coffee farmers and the environment, when given the option.

4. Song lyrics may change your attitude towards people different from you

Indeed, listening to these songs may make us less aggressive, more accepting of differences, and even—yes, for real—more likely to respect women.

A study by Ruth and colleagues, for example, found that participants who had listened to Bruno Mars’s “Count on Me”—a song with prosocial lyrics—had fewer aggressive thoughts (but not fewer aggressive feelings) compared to those who listened to Mars’s “The Lazy Song,” which is more neutral.

Another study by Greitemeyer found that German participants who listened to neutral lyrics were significantly more likely to help a student with a German-sounding name pass out pamphlets for a project than a student with a Turkish-sounding name, whereas participants who had listened to pro-integration lyrics were equally likely to help both.

In a similar vein, another study by Greitemeyer and colleagues found that participants who had listened to songs with pro-equality lyrics—such as “Respect” by Aretha Franklin—showed evidence of more positive attitudes and behavior toward women compared to those who had listened to neutral lyrics.

It is important to note that these studies have limitations. Most used small numbers of college students as their participants, tested only a few songs, and looked only at short-term effects. Thus, it’s unclear whether these results are due to priming, which might affect short-term decisions without influencing how people see the world in general. Even so, it is possible that listening to more prosocial songs could lead to long-term changes in attitudes and behavior for the better.

5. Making and moving to music may boost cooperation and connection

It’s not just listening to music that can change our behavior for the better—moving to music helps, too. But it’s not the movement of dancing itself that inspires kindness and helpfulness (although it might contribute). Instead, it’s the way music helps to synchronize us with other people.

There are several studies that suggest dancing to music with others (as well as jointly making or listening to music) can boost prosocial behavior. In one study by Sebastian Kirschner and Michael Tomasello, four-year-old children behaved more cooperatively and prosocially after making music together compared to children who were engaged in another activity with similar levels of social and linguistic interaction.

Another study by Laura Cirelli, Stephanie Wan, and Laurel Trainor found that even younger children—14-month-olds—were significantly more likely to help an experimenter after bouncing synchronously with her to the Beatles song “Twist and Shout” than after bouncing asynchronously (an effect achieved by the experimenter listening to a sped-up track on headphones).

This increased cooperation isn’t limited to children. Studies have found that adults who did synchronous singing cooperated more in an economic game, and that people who participated in synchronized drumming were more likely than others to pick up pencils for an experimenter who had dropped them.

A recent study by Jan Stupacher and colleagues suggests that just viewing synchronized movements can influence how we see others. In this study, adult participants watched videos of two people figures walking side by side and imagined that they were one of the people. When music accompanied the videos, participants were more inclined to see the two figures as close and they liked the other one better, compared to when a metronome or silence accompanied the video. Why? Perhaps the music made them happier (as in the gym experiment), suggest the researchers—or maybe music plays a unique role in social bonding.

Interestingly, messing with the synchrony between the music and the figures changed people’s impressions. In some versions of the experiment, the two figures moved out of sync with one another. When the other figure was moving out of phase with the music, but the figure the participant was pretending to be was moving in phase, participants rated the other figure as less likeable compared to the opposite situation (other-figure in phase and self-figure out of phase). Could this mean that moving to the beat could help you find a new friend at a party? Further research is needed.

So, music can do plenty of good, it seems—but can it really “Heal the World?” It’s hard to say, given that research into the prosocial impacts of music is still in its infancy. But this smattering of studies suggests that there are ways music may indeed help.


All my love, always,