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PROBLEM: Making a conscious effort to be happy, according to researchers, is responsible for as much as 40 percent of the variation in how good people actually feel. But trying too hard can backfire: a 2003 study found that when people "try to feel happier" while listening to classical music, they end up feeling worse than if they had just sat and listened.
METHODOLOGY: Researchers at the University of Missouri recruited 167 "generally well-functioning" students and attempted to manipulate their moods. About half of the participants were told to "really focus on trying to feel happier" while listening to music. Some were played the piece used in the 2003 study: Igor Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring," which is characterized as "complex and discordant," and thus kind of a downer. Others were played Aaron Copland's "Rodeo," a more upbeat and generally positive piece. The other half were instructed to "just relax and be yourself" while listening to the music, and explicitly told not to try to improve their mood.
After 12 minutes of listening, the participants were asked to rate their mood on a sliding scale from "very negative" to "very positive," and to indicate, on a scale from one to 15, how much they agreed with positive mood descriptions like "happy," "joyful," and "satisfied."