Cowritten with Raina Murnak, the book grew out of my final project in the Certificate in Wholebeing Positive Psychology. Inspired by the course, I had started singing and dancing again, something I greatly enjoyed when I was younger—including studying voice with Raina, the director of Contemporary Voice and Performance Artistry at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music.
Raina’s educational beliefs and approach were already steeped in strengths-based teaching, and at that time, she was teaching a graduate-level peak performance class for musicians, exposing them to concepts about positive psychology, the state of flow, communication, the mind, and the body. She was very intrigued by the playlist I had created with a song representing each of the 24 VIA character strengths, and we began talking about how character strengths could be used with music students to counteract performance anxiety, critical evaluations, and negative self-talk. The stage was set for a wonderful duet between us.
All of our dialogue came together in the book, which introduces the language, themes, and concepts of a strength-based approach to working in the music industry. Targeted exercises, self-reflections, interviews, and profession-specific case studies encourage readers to harness the power of their strengths to shift to an open mindset, create more positive working relationships, and improve institutions within their field.
Here’s an excerpt of the book focused on gratitude.
Gratitude is a centering strength. Acknowledging and giving thanks for the many gifts we are given in music—our talent, collaborators, bandmates, teachers, luck, and opportunities—powerfully amplifies your grace and attracts more of the good. You might notice that when we focus our attention on what we are thankful for, we tend to notice even more marvelous things about our daily happenings. Exercising gratitude helps us refocus our lenses to see the blessings and opportunities that surround us. Expressing thanks for the everyday bits of good fortune primes you to find more good to be thankful for. It’s a multiplier that boosts the signal of everything wonderful in your life. Yes, it is true that there are many negative things that surround us, but the power of positivity, especially in music, is a superpower. The singer who loses their high register to a cold may be grateful that they still have their lower range and choose to transpose songs to explore tones there. They might come away from this experience with a newfound gratitude for their perseverance, new vocal palettes to explore, and a sense of resiliency. Gratitude helps play over all the noise so you can express yourself from a grounded, truer place.
Gratitude can be used as a tool to shift your focus. It is especially potent in combating stage fright and anxiety. When faced with stultifying fear, try counting your blessings. Concentrate on the fact that you are one of the lucky people who got to study their instrument. There are many parts of the world where survival is the mainstay of existence. Music is a luxury that you were able to partake in. Then think about how you up-leveled your skill set to the degree where you were able to make it part of your livelihood. And ultimately, you are lucky enough to get an opportunity to perform. Finally, you can be grateful that you get to share your love of what you do with an audience of others who are excited to hear you. This gratitude check-in can change your perspective quickly and thus, your fear factor may lessen. And, of course, gratitude is quietly present in the more mundane moments. It’s important to stay grateful for the background privileges of your daily life—your health, family, pets, friends, job, home, city, etc. You always can find something you are grateful for.
Often gratitude goes undercover. Sometimes the lessons that are hardest or most painful to learn become our greatest moments of gratitude in disguise. They may feel excruciating at the time but end up being the most important growth places which develop us further. This happens all the time in the field of music, with the many rejections and illusions that abound. Sometimes losing one job or deal turns out the be the greatest blessing because it recalibrates us onto another path that we are better suited for. Sometimes our subconscious sabotages us in roles we really don’t fully feel or get behind. Think of musicians who failed in one genre and thrived in another that felt more aligned with them. Showing gratitude for both the good and the bad things that happen adds perspective and balance. Gratitude imbues faith in the process and allows you to trust the twists and turns of the musical journey.
A grateful spirit attracts bounty and abundance. Being grateful for what you have is not an admission that you are satisfied with everything the way it is now. It is rather an acknowledgment that you respect the gifts you do have right now and are in alignment with the energy of receiving more of the same. That warm spirit opens you up to receive gratefully. Be grateful for the artists you are producing today and let them feel your thanks. This paves the way to bring more and bigger artists your way. Remember, showing gratitude is free—it is the one thing you have that you can give away and it will never deplete you.
Gratitude rewires your brain to be happier by causing synchronized activity in multiple brain regions. It lights up the hypothalamus and parts of the brain’s reward pathways. The networks that fire during pleasure and socialization also light up with gratitude. Experiencing gratitude boosts the neurotransmitter serotonin which then activates the brain stem to produce dopamine—the brain’s pleasure hormone.
Neuroscientists uncovered a remarkable distinction in expressing gratitude. It has been shown that those who engage their emotions when expressing thanks and take time to really “feel it” experience more benefits than those who just say thank-yous to be polite. The regular practice of gratitude reaps true health and happiness benefits for those who incorporate it like a daily vitamin. And perhaps most empowering, Dr. Rick Hanson teaches us that for our brain to “let it in” we must keep experiencing the thoughts, feelings, and images for at least one to two minutes.
Nancy Kirsner, PhD, TEP, OTR, has been in private practice, teaching, and consulting for 45 years. A graduate of WBI’s Certificate in Wholebeing Positive Psychology, she loves translating positive psychology principles and research into applied practice, utilizing experiential learning. Nancy is co-author, with Phoebe Atkinson, of a chapter of the book Action Explorations: Using Psychodramatic Methods in Non-Therapeutic Settings. She is past president of the American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama (ASGPP), and has been the editor of the ASGPP’s Psychodrama Network News since 2018.