Dinner at our house almost always comes with a playlist. Every evening, as we’re setting the table and putting the finishing touches on the food, I hear my husband start the music in the dining room – and the selections often say something about what’s happening in the household or family dynamics that night.
If the playlist belongs to one of our sons, it might mean that child had a hard day at school and needs a little extra attention. If it’s my husband’s beloved 80’s playlist, he’s judged the family vibe to be fun and high-energy that evening. When the Indigo Girls start playing, it’s a subtle signal that he’s particularly thinking of me at the moment. And depending on the artist, various classic rock albums might mean everyone’s feeling a bit reflective about loved ones we’ve lost.
The dinner music has always been tied to the mental and emotional well-being of my family, and as it turns out, research shows that we may be onto something. Dr. Eugene Beresin, Executive Director of the MGH Clay Center for Healthy Young Minds, recently published a new book on the power of music for human connection, wellbeing, and mental health. Dr. Beresin says:
“Generally listening to music has been an effective means for mood regulation, expression of feelings and emotions…Music creates a sense of social belonging when watching music videos with friends or sharing playlists. This is true for adolescents who simply listen alone or watch music videos or share playlists with friends. When listening, even when alone, the brain knows it came from a human agent, and hence is experienced as a social phenomenon. When listening to music, you are never alone.”
Dr. Beresin’s observations cover all aspects of interacting with music, including playing instruments, singing, creating playlists, and listening. He also looks at all ages and finds benefits across the lifespan, from coordinating communications between mothers and their infants to improving mood and mental health indicators in older adults with stroke or dementia. The key takeaway is that music – performing it, participating with others, and simply listening and sharing the experience – offers great social and emotional benefits, and is good for our mental health. Here are some ideas to incorporate the power of music into your family dinner routine:
No matter how you choose to enjoy it, music can be a powerful addition to your family mealtimes. Give it a try and see how much fun dinner music can be!
Nothing says “kitchen dance party” quite like homemade pizza!
For a calming way to bring music to the table, try this great transition activity that’s perfect for settling into mealtimes.
Get everyone talking with these music-themed conversation starters!
2023 The Family Dinner Project