Whistle Away Your Worries: Benefits of Whistling
Whistling Past and Present
As I walk down the street, I often attract stares of disbelief from the people who pass by. Now, the last time I looked in the mirror I didn’t have two heads, or even one bald and tattooed one, I don’t dress outlandishly, I don’t smell like a skunk, and I am in all other ways, a perfectly normal person in appearance and disposition, so why the surprised stares? It’s simple. I do something which is almost as rare today as hens’ teeth. I whistle.
I acquired the habit of pursing my lips and emitting the shrill warbling-like sound many years ago. All of the men in my family are accomplished whistlers, and so I grew up with it. My grandfather used to whistle when he had nothing to say (usually the same tune every time, god bless him). My father was a semi-professional musician who used to whistle on stage as well as sing and play the harmonica. He elevated whistling to an art form.
But whistling has become a rare sound these days. No-one whistles walking down the street anymore, and hardly anyone whistles at work. This is a shame, as there are many benefits to be gained from it.
I have it from a reliable source that pubic school boys in England used to be obliged to whistle in the showers every morning. Apparently it is not possible to hold an erotic thought whilst whistling and so whistling was used to curb masturbation, and therefore, as the old wives tale goes, also helped to prevent blindness in schoolboys with an overactive libido. Perhaps they were also told to whistle themselves to sleep in bed at night?
In old movies, especially black and white ones, it was common to see men whistling, but not anymore. The more mature reader will no doubt remember snow white and the seven dwarfs and “whistle while you work” scene. But now it seems that whistling just like the act of smoking cigarettes has been banished from the silver screen, probably never to reappear.
Strange that, because it is well known that whistling is a pick-me-up and promotes feelings of happiness. It is impossible to be miserable and depressed whilst whistling. Try it and see. In this respect it has the same effect as smiling. Put a broad smile on your face then try to be depressed. You can’t. The two simply don’t go together.
In Praise of the Benefits of Whistling
So why has the habit of whistling died out? Is the tendency to whistle hereditary? Passed down in the genes, unknowingly, from father to son? Or does it have a national or regional significance? Was it just a fashion? Or is it perhaps class dependent? Working classes whistle whereas middle and upper classes don’t - and we're all at least middle class these days aren't we? It is certainly more prevalent amongst men than women, although some women do whistle as well.
I suppose that the advent of on-demand music helped toll the death knell for whistling, which was, with hindsight, the forerunner of today’s MP3 player or walkman. In the past you could whistle away to your favourite songs whereas now, you press shuffle-play on your iPod and hey presto, your music of choice is delivered instantly to your ears.
Is everybody able to whistle? Is it a universal human ability, or do you need to have as a minimum, at least some degree of musical ability? Are some people “whistle deaf” just as some people are tone deaf and therefore unable to differentiate between musical pitches and timbres? Perhaps I should instigate a survey to find out.
To me whistling just seems like a natural thing to do. I have always done it and probably always will, even if it does sometimes provoke a surprised reaction from passers-by. Perhaps the women passers-by think that my pursed lips when in whistling mode are in fact a suggestive sexual gesture; pursed so as to blow kisses at them. This would be an easy mistake to make, and would better explain their surprised reaction, especially if, due to traffic noise for example, they could not hear the dulcet tones emanating from my lips.
Personally, I think that whistling should be reintroduced and promoted on a national level by the health service. Doctors should put away the Prozac and other mood changing drugs and instead prescribe one hour of uninterrupted, wholehearted whistling each day. This would surely have the beneficial effect of reducing sadness and depression and promoting happiness throughout the nation.
Or then again, how about an International Whistling Day? One day in the year when everyone can whistle with complete abandon, safe in the knowledge that they will not be frowned upon or labeled as an oddball. Any supporters?
I am sure that there was less depression in the “good old days” when people used to whistle away their cares and woes, instead of seeking relief from the contents of a pill bottle. At least whistling doesn’t cost anything, nor does it have any harmful side effects. So it’s worth a try, don’t you think?
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