A Lollapalooza a day keeps the doctor away.
There's nothing like a good music festival to warm the cockles of your blackened heart.
In the weeks and days leading up to whichever massive music mash-up you've signed yourself up for, there's no denying that you're overtaken with the titillating sense that anything can happen.
There's a tangible excitement at the prospect of being a part of something bigger than yourself, and for perhaps the only time during the year, you're looking forward to the random and bizarre connections with complete strangers that festivals can bring.
Just the mere thought of being amongst all your favorite bands with a bunch of people who are exactly as weird as you are can make the time fly by, and once you step foot on festival grounds, you're in a mindset completely different from the one you exist in during 99.9 percent of your waking life.
You feel good. You have arrived.
There’s a particular festival culture that exists; one that's experienced nowhere else outside the festival's gates, and one that gives us an assortment of very specific, very buoyant feelings. What is it about that culture that causes us to gush happiness and positivity where we'd normally be sullen or stressed?
Psychologists have asked the same questions about music festivals, and a number of studies have been run to probe them. Taken as a whole, the research seems to convey a few interesting findings about how music festivals contribute positively to people's lives.
1. Concerts and festivals make you feel like you belong
Whether you're dancing alone, singing along to your favorite band with a group of friends or just trying to find a tiny molecule shade, you're engaging in something larger along with thousands of other like-minded people who are all there to chase the same experience you are. In away, you've found your tribe.
Although you remain a distinct individual at festivals, it's easy to adapt a kind of herd mentality in which your voice and actions are just a small part of a larger whole, and that feeling of engagement and contribution can be immensely gratifying. It's also relaxing to get lost in the crowd, to know that you can be both seen and unseen by engaging with the festival as a larger organism.
In fact, one 2014 paper proved engagement is one of the most important elements of positive psychology. In it, researchers discovered that the positive effects engaging experiences such as at concerts or music festivals have can start to appear weeks, and even months, before the actual event, allowing for people to benefit cognitively not just from the event itself, but also from the excitement that comes from knowing you will be there brings.
In a 2005 study, low levels of wellbeing were shown to be costly to health, social interactions, and daily life, as well as to the larger economy and one's productivity in society. Engagement, especially the kind that music festivals facilitate, can improve a person's well-being and give them a sense of purpose in life, something that combats all the adverse effects poor wellbeing brings.
Even if that purpose is to sneak in contraband water so your squad doesn't have to shell out $14 for a bottle, it's a purpose, nonetheless.
2. Music is good for mental health
Much research has explored how music can improve positive emotions, relationships and wellbeing.
In a review for the Australian government (oh, Australia), Pascoe and colleagues showed that engaging with music has "benefits in social, emotional, physical, and cognitive domains, and can bring joy to life."
Pascoe suggested that interacting with music has important implications that can span across an individual's lifespan. According this his review, music can improve resilience levels and self-expression, enhance mood, imbue a sense of place, and make someone feel like they belong.
In a separate 2008 study, music was shown to bring positive effects to every day life. Participants who engaged in a musical immersion program reported feelings of happiness, elation, and nostalgia more frequently in experiences that included music.
3. The sense of adventure and almost kinda dying make you feel great
One of the most important reasons why music festivals make us feel so good is the sense of adventure they bring, both before and during the event.
Why do people go? To have fun and listen to music. Being around people who are of the same mindset, who's primary goal is a good time, can bring one comfort, facilitate a sense of belonging, and give an individual an all-important sense of “freedom" that makes them feel complete; like they can be themselves. In fact, music festivals are perhaps one of the only places on earth you can freely be yourself. You can wear what you want, dance like no one's watching, and enjoy a social structure that's much looser and more accepting than it is in the real world. They're truly the only place you can go up to a total stranger, look them in the eye, and tell them you love them without getting decked. They love you too. You all love each other. These drugs are really kicking in.
Plus, there's an inherent danger and discomfort in music festival culture that can be kind of exciting. You don't know where to pee, you might lose your friends, the drugs you bought might be bath salts, you might get heat stroke and the whole thing might get rained out, like what one of our writers experienced at Austin's Levitation festival. The thought that you're far away from the comfort and relative solitude of your hometown, and that fate could kick you into survival mode at any minute, is more than a little romantic.
There's a well-documented connection between this kind of novel situation and your brain's dopamine-reward system. The more novelty, intrigue and adventure you experience, the more your brain floods with happiness causing hormones like dopamine, and you're left feeling energized, alive and optimistic.
4. They make you look at life differently
Music festivals are well-known for improving people's outlook on life, imbuing them with a positive attitude and an optimistic sense of togetherness.
One study on the psychology of music festivals by Packer and Ballantyne showed that the overall positive impact a music festival brings to one’s emotional wellbeing results in a change in the person’s lifestyle views for the better.
After the music festival experience, the study also showed that many of the participants left the event “looking at life differently, or being more open to receiving positive messages about life.”
It's crazy to think that a weekend of hectic insanity can do that, but it can, and it does. Just ask anyone dreamily returning from Coachella or FYF; they've got a look about them, almost like they've relaxed into themselves.
Hmm … they must have gotten the good Port-O-Potty.
So, while they can be extremely expensive, extraordinarily inconvenient, and even sometimes fatal, music festivals have an overarching benefit that improves not just you, but the entirety of the attendees who go. And if that atmosphere can make individual people happier, calmer, more invigorated and more optimistic about life in general, imagine what that could do for the masses.