The concept of subjective wellbeing The concept of wellbeing

The concept of subjective wellbeing

concept of wellbeing has started to become a fundamental topic in psychological
research. Wellbeing refers to “the overall quality of the conditions or
experiences of an individual or group.” (Thompson, 2014, p. 344). There are many research perspectives on the subject of wellbeing, and due to the nature of the
concept, wellbeing must be approached
as a subjective phenomenon; which
recognises how people feel, think and assess their lives in a general sense. (Dolan, Peasgood, & White,
2008). In the context in which wellbeing will be investigated in this research,
wellbeing in older adulthood is more complex than the absence of illness or
disorder (Seligman, 2008; Murcia, Kreutz, Clift, & Bongard, 2010), rather
it includes the ways that people ‘optimize, or
look after, their social, physical and mental health’ (Perkins & Williamon,

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A branch of research pioneered by
Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000), Positive Psychology focuses on the science of wellbeing and
happiness by investigating the features of a meaningful life and the affect they can have on an individual
and/or community. The authors believe individuals, communities and families
will thrive through a scientific understanding of positive psychology and human


as research into the field of Positive Psychology begins to expand, a greater
quality of life can be achieved and treated through much of the same techniques
that have been used to treat illness and can be used to promote wellbeing
(Lopez and Gallagher, 2011). Through Positive Psychology, new ideas to
qualitatively increase individuals’ ability to flourish and perceive a good
mental health as being more than just the absence of illness or disorder, all ties
in to an individual’s overall wellbeing.

Aside from
simply living well, wellbeing as a multidimensional system of separate
components is emerging in current research trends. Dimensions including positive emotions, engagement,
relationships, meaning and accomplishment (Seligman, 2011) are standards
that contribute to overall wellbeing and higher levels of physical and
cognitive functioning. Attention to former standards such as job and
productivity satisfaction, physical health and relationship stability has
diminished (Lyubomirsky,
King, & Diener, 2005).


Benefits of music engagement
to wellbeing

showing a relationship between music engagement and the decrease of
loneliness/depression have emerged. Evidence of decreased loneliness, anxiety
and depression were the primary findings of these studies (Bugos, Perlstein,
McRae, Brophy, & Bedenbaugh 2007; Clift and Hancox, 2010; Cohen, Perlstein, Chapline, Kelly, Firth, & Simmens 2006; Koga and Timms
2001). In addition to factors of loneliness and depression, Bugos et al. (2007)
compared a control group and a group learning the piano and reported increased
cognitive functioning among the piano-learning group. The Cohen et al. (2006)
study found participants in a weekly singing group reporting a higher overall
rating of physical health and an increase in the number of routine activities
in addition to decreased feelings of loneliness. Furthermore, Clift and Hancox
(2010) found a positive correlation between choral singing and psychological
wellbeing for women. Hays and Minichiello (2005), also found benefits to choral
involvement and instrumental music learning in an adult class setting involving
aspects linking to positive wellbeing such as those social, emotional,
cognitive and physical aspects mentioned above. The same authors also found the
engagement between older adults and music learning supports ageing and benefits
the learner through enhancing wellbeing, self-esteem, independence, competence
and social connections. Taylor and Hallam (2008) also conducted a study
investigating the ways in which learning to play the piano attributes to
self-fulfillment through the participants’ need for self-confidence, achievement
and enjoyment. Although research into the subject is increasing with the focus
on music engagement and its impact on wellbeing, much of the attention is on
engagement with choral singing and does not factor in engagement with musical


Music listening

the growing body of research into improving the wellbeing of older adults,
emerges a research trend of music listening to improve wellbeing. Music is an
important part of many older adult’s lives (Cohen, Bailey, & Nilsson, 2002)
and can use music as a positive and emotional experience (Hays, 2005; Juslin
and Sloboda, 2001; Laukka, 2007). A survey conducted by Cole (1999) found that
75 percent of people listened to music for at least one hour each day, which is
significant because this shows that music listening holds importance in
everyday life. The survey by Laukka (2007) included measures for personality
and wellbeing regarding the sample’s music listening habits and listening
motivations. The study yielded positive results for music listening and its
link to wellbeing, finding music listening was a frequent source of positive
emotions and significantly enhanced psychological wellbeing. The results also
suggested significant effects of music listening on its ability to regulate mood,
to support identity and for enjoyment. Research has also suggested that
listening to music and attendance at cultural events can increase longevity of
life (Bygren, Konlaan, and Johansson
1996). In relation to music listening’s impact on older adults, Gabrielsson
(2002) suggests music listening has a relaxation effect and increases positive
emotions in older adults.

this research together, music can be used as a tool of active routine
music-listening to further enhance positive emotions, which can possibly
improve wellbeing.



Learning and older adults

suggested by Laslett (1989), the later life of an adult comprises of a Third
and Fourth Age. Older adults who have reached the Fourth Age can face
stereotypes such as a decline in physical, mental and wellbeing, and a stage of
dependency (Baltes & Smith, 2003; Smith,
2003). However, adults of the Third Age are viewed as independent individuals
who function considerably well physically and mentally (Fillit, Butler,
O’Connell, Albert, Birren, & Cotman, 2002; 
Gilleard & Higgs, 1998; Scourfield, 2007).  Although Schuller and Watson (2009) recommend
the Third Age to be conceptualised as an age band of 50 – 75, and the Fourth
aged above 75, Laslett (1989) recognises the difficulty in these age band labels
as the author argues these Ages represent a quality of life rather than a
simple number. However, these age bands have now become a recognised and
accepted way of acknowledging the Third and Fourth Ages (Withnall, 2010).

engagement and learning could potentially promote wellbeing through a variety
of aspects including social, emotional, cognitive and physical aspects, as
music making and music listening can produce emotional and cognitive benefits.

In this case, a percussion music-making course is the activity in which
participants are engaged in and the results are thematically analysed. Much of
the prior research has focused on older adults who are frail or in residential
care, however there is little research that explores the function of music learning
in the lives of healthy older adults who are living and active in their
communities. Research has also investigated the impact that learning in older
adulthood can have on the components of wellbeing and that continuing to learn
motivates, keeps a positive outlook on life, helps to understand and develop
skills to adjust to modern society and how the world is developing, assists
everyday living and will achieve a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment (Biesta, 2008; Withnall, 2008).

study investigating listening and active participation with music and using it
for emotional self-regulation yielded results suggesting that music engagement
could be used for “happy mood maintenance, revival,
strong sensation, diversion, discharge, mental work, solace, and psyching up”
(Saarikallio. 2011, p. 6). The same author also found that for older
participants (aged 65 and over) participating in singing groups or instrumental
ensembles provided enjoyment, progression, diminished feelings of loneliness,
assisted with difficulties of ageing and added a depth of meaning to their

Tesky, Thiel, Banzer and Pantel
(2011) suggest music engagement can protect against cognitive decline in adults
of the Third and Fourth Ages. An improvement in subjective memory decline was
apparent in adults of the Third Age, whereas Fourth Age participants
experienced an increased speed of information processing.



Learning in a social/community

the relationship between music and wellbeing becomes more apparent in
literature, other themes such as music-making in group and community contexts
have been identified as a wellbeing enhancer in the Third and Fourth Ages.

Social connections have appeared to have an impact upon sustaining personal
engagement in optional and obligatory contexts, such as influence psychological
and physiological health (eg. Smith &
Christakis, 2008), increase happiness in the individual members of the group
(Fowler & Christakis, 2009) and decrease risk of dementia (Cacioppo,
Berntson, Sheridan & McClintock, 2002). Evidence of participation in active, creative and social activities has
also been found to contribute to maintenance of personal wellbeing and can
assist in recovery from depression (Fullagar, 2008). Research has also
indicated that older learners who participate in multigenerational group and
community music activities holds emotional and social value (Bowers, 1998;
Darrow, Johnson & Ollenberger, 1994; Kalthoft, 1990).


the context of research into the benefits of singing in a choir can have on
wellbeing, there is an abundance of literature to be explored. The main
findings from the research suggest group singing can promote personal and
social wellbeing, reduce depression and anxiety, and encourage social
participation (Clift, Nicol, Raisbeck, Whitmore,
and Morrison 2010, Houston, McKee, Carroll, & Marsh, 1998; Lally, 2009;
Sandgren, 2009; Wise, Hartmann, & Fisher, 1992; Zanini & Leao, 2006).

Other benefits of group singing suggested by Southcott (2009) include personal
growth, feeling a sense of purpose and fulfilment and provides an environment
where social relationships can be maintained. Choirs have also been known to
create a strong sense of community, facilitating learning, interaction,
involvement and trust (Langston and Barrett 2008).

much of the current literature has focused on choir participation, main
findings of research investigating the effects of group instrumental
music-making include similar benefits to group singing activities. The subject of how instrumental music participation
can impact quality of life was explored by Coffman (1999) who surveyed a group
of 52 senior citizens of a wind instrumental ensemble. Among other aspects such
as accomplishment and the feeling of enrichment whilst participating in active
music-making activities, social interaction was a main factor and contribution
to quality of life in this study. Similarly, Gembris (2008) surveyed a group of
308 participants aged 40 – 97 participating in senior’s instrumental
music-making ensembles and orchestras. The participants identified happiness,
enjoyment and community fellowship as positive benefits to their musical

A theme that
is seemingly consistent within the social music-making literature reviewed
above, is the sense of community constructed from participants’ musical
engagement. Allison (2008) explored this sense of community within a nursing
home context and found in the medium of song writing, participants’ cultural
backgrounds influenced their song writing and helped form the identity of the
residential community.

Motor-coordination and
subjective wellbeing

music learning of instruments is important to the health of older adults as it
can stimulate coordination skills between both sides of the body. Research has
shown that a loss of coordination is prevalent in older adults due to ageing
(Seidler et al. 2010), and can be debilitating physically and emotionally,
which can negatively affect wellbeing (Singh & Misra, 2009). A study by Zelazny (2001) yielded evidence of decreased arthritic
pain, increased finger strength and dexterity amongst four older pianists who
took regular sessions of piano playing for a four week period. Thus a percussion music-making course combining the physicality of
playing percussive instruments and the benefits of music learning in a social
setting is designed to enhance factors that contribute to a general sense of
wellbeing. The moderate level of physicality it takes to play an instrument can
improve other variables connected to psychological health such as wellbeing,
self efficacy and self-concept (McAuley,
1994; McAuley and Rudolph, 1995; Alfermann and StolI, 2000; Fox, 2000).


The PERMA Model 

PERMA model is the theoretical model proposed by Seligman (2011) regarding
positive psychology and wellbeing, and forms the basis in which this research
project was designed. The phenomenon of wellbeing, is not a singular feeling
which can be expressed, but rather a concept with many contributing factors
determining a positive wellbeing. Those factors, on the PERMA model, are Positive Emotions, Engagement,
Relationships, Meaning and Achievement.

The Positive Emotions element of the model
is a recognisable feeling of happiness that one may feel. The ability to focus
on where that true happiness stems from is more accurate of the element than
focusing on short moments of
happiness. It is the ability to view past, present and future perspectives in a
positive light. This positive outlook on life can assist in other areas of life
such as relationships, career and developing skills. However, negative emotions
are also present in human life and can range from low to high activation (Cacioppo, Berntson, Norris, & Gollan, 2011;
Huelsmann, Nemanick, & Munz, 1998). The positive emotions element of the
model places importance on the difference between pleasure and enjoyment.

Pleasure refers to fulfilling basic survival needs, whereas enjoyment comes
from intellectually stimulating tasks. Enjoyment is crucial to the element of
positive emotion, as it is this type of satisfaction needed to feel truly
happy. In relation to a music making, it would be considered an experience of
enjoyment, as it is intellectually stimulating, and therefore creating positive


Engagement element refers to the
importance of engagement within activities that require an intense level of
concentration. In positive psychology, this continued focus and dedicated
concentration is referred to as flow (Csikszentmihalyi,
1990). There are 8 characteristics of flow described by Csikszentmihalyi;
complete concentration on the task at hand, having a clear goal to reach, the
transformation of time, rewarding experience, effortlessness and ease, a
balance between skill and challenge, merging of actions and awareness, and a
feeling of control over the task. The characteristics of flow match the intended characteristics of the Engagement element.

Furthermore, Engagement is an important factor to ageing successfully (Rowe
& Kahn, 1987) and involves emotional, cognitive and behavioural dimensions
(Butler & Kern, 2016). As music is a source of dedicated concentration and
can be a pleasurable experience, it can generate flow, therefore contributing to the PERMA model of wellbeing.

The Relationship element of the PERMA model is
also a fundamental element to life (Berscheid & Reis, 1998). Positive
outcomes such as better physical health, lower mortality risk and decreased
risk of depression have been linked to those with social relationships and
support (Tay, Tan, Diener & Gonzalez, 2012; Taylor, 2011). Furthermore,
intense feelings of loneliness has been found to be the cause of some physical
pain and inflammation (Eisenberger,
Lieberman & Williams, 2003).  In studies in
relation to wellbeing, the element of relationships occurs in most of the
existing research used internationally (Butler & Kern, 2016). Participants
of a music-making program in a classroom setting presented in this report have
the opportunity to form relationships with peers and is why a classroom setting
potentially contributes to enhanced wellbeing.


aspect of Meaning is a concept that
is usually a self-defined phenomenon that relates to the way one views life and
purpose and can be a feeling that one’s life holds value. Steger (2012) defines
meaning as having purpose and direction in life and feeling as though life is
worthwhile and valuable. Similarly as with other dimensions on the PERMA model,
research has found that the sense of meaning in one’s life has been linked to
enhanced physical health, greater life satisfaction, and decreased mortality (Boyle, Barnes, Buchman, & Bennett, 2009; Ryff,
Singer, & Dienberg Love, 2004; Steger, 2012). Meaning is seemingly a
subjective phenomenon that can be dependent on many factors such as religion,
culture and age. However the method, it seems to impact people in a similar way
and contributes to wellbeing.

for the Achievement element to the
PERMA model, it can be considered to be subjective due to factors such as
personal ambitions and circumstances in which the individual is in (Butler
& Kern, 2016). The world is constantly exposed to successful and
accomplished people and superior performance, for example sports stars,
musicians and actors. This success is subjectively due to the individual
persevering and reaching goals, mastering the task at hand through hard work
and being competent in doing so (Butler & Kern, 2016). In relation to the
Self Determination Theory (Ryan &
Deci, 2000), competency is suggested as a core basic human need
in order to achieve goals. Self-Determination Theory is not explored in this
report, however it is relevant as subjective wellbeing is a consequence of
Self-Determination Theory and complements the PERMA Model, as an individual
must first be intrinsically motivated in order to undertake the percussion
music-making course.


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