Music and Art – Good for Your Soul and Your Lifespan

Friedrich Neitzsche once claimed that without music, life would be a mistake. Researchers in Norway claim that without music, art, or other cultural events, life may also be shorter and less satisfying. A new study, published by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, reports that visiting museums, attending concerts, playing an instrument, and creating art are associated with happier lives. The investigators surveyed more than 51,000 adults to assess their leisure habits and cultural participation and their self-perceived health status and levels of depression and anxiety. Overall, there was a strong correlation between engaging in cultural activities and happiness. The association was not affected by socioeconomic status or educational level.

A gender difference was observed in the types of activities that men and women preferred. Men reported more happiness and life satisfaction when they passively participated in cultural activities, such as attending a concert or visiting a museum. Women, on the other hand, reported more satisfaction when they actively engaged in an activity, such as playing an instrument or creating art.

A previous study reported a similar association, extending the findings not just to happiness, but to overall lifespan. People who regularly participated in cultural events exhibited lower mortality than those who rarely did. Similarly, cultural participation has been shown to have quantifiable benefits on health measurements, including overall physical health, social functioning, and vitality.

A similar study in the United States, attempting to replicate the Scandinavian findings, surveyed 1200 American adults. The study showed that the more cultural events a person attended, the happier he was. The unanswered question from all these studied relates to cause and effect. Are people happier because they participate in cultural activities, or do they seek out certain activities because they are already happy?

Cultural participation has been used as medical therapy and health promotion, but it will likely be some time before patients receive a prescription for symphony tickets or an art lesson. But, it is one more reminder of the mind-body connection, and healthcare providers, as well as patients, should be aware of the connection between emotional and intellectual stimulation and overall well-being. So, buy those concert tickets or attend the new gallery opening. Better yet, ladies, take up that instrument you’ve always wanted to learn to play. You may just add life to your years and years to your life at the same time.


Bygren LO, Weissglas G, Wikström BM, Konlaan BB, Grjibovski A, Karlsson AB, Andersson SO, & Sjöström M (2009). Cultural participation and health: a randomized controlled trial among medical care staff. Psychosomatic medicine, 71 (4), 469-73 PMID: 19321851

Cuypers, K., Krokstad, S., Lingaas Holmen, T., Skjei Knudtsen, M., Olov Bygren, L., & Holmen, J. (2011). Patterns of receptive and creative cultural activities and their association with perceived health, anxiety, depression and satisfaction with life among adults: the HUNT study, Norway Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health DOI: 10.1136/jech.2010.113571

Konlaan BB, Björby N, Bygren LO, Weissglas G, Karlsson LG, & Widmark M (2000). Attendance at cultural events and physical exercise and health: a randomized controlled study. Public health, 114 (5), 316-9 PMID: 11035447

Konlaan BB, Bygren LO, & Johansson SE (2000). Visiting the cinema, concerts, museums or art exhibitions as determinant of survival: a Swedish fourteen-year cohort follow-up. Scandinavian journal of public health, 28 (3), 174-8 PMID: 11045748

Wilkinson AV, Waters AJ, Bygren LO, & Tarlov AR (2007). Are variations in rates of attending cultural activities associated with population health in the United States? BMC public health, 7 PMID: 17764546

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.
See All Posts By The Author