The Top 10 Songs to Get You to Your Happy Place

Everyone has one song that triggers a specific emotional response. It might be the song that you danced to at your wedding or a song that takes you right back to your high school cafeteria. The reason we have a such a deep connection to music because it is hardwired in our brains.  In fact, scientists have found that music stimulates more parts of the brain than any other human function.

New research suggests upbeat or uplifting music can enhance attention and memory in school age children. Other studies show that calming music such as Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” had a positive effect on cognition among adults. Despite the debate over which music positive impacts learning the most, neuroscience confirms that the best way to get your whole brain in gear is with music.

“I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.” -Albert Einstein

It probably wouldn’t surprise you to learn that in addition to enhancing cognition, music also significantly benefits our mental health and well-being. A study conducted by researchers from McGill University in Canada found that listening to music increases the amount of dopamine released into the brain. Now, scientists are exploring music as a potential treatment for depression.

Most of us don’t need science to tell us that certain songs immediately make us feel good. However, cognitive neuroscientist, Dr. Jacob Jolij, wanted a quantifiable explanation as to why some songs make us feel better than others.  In fact, he made it his quest to identify the most feel good song of all time.

He started by identifying the songs that respondents listed as those that make them ‘feel good’, and then looked for patterns in key and tempo. After factoring in additional variables, such as season in which the song was released, genre, lyrical theme, and overall emotionality of the lyrics, he discovered the formula.  Ready?

Yeah… I know.  Here is the easy explanation: it’s the number of positive lyrical elements in a song divided by how much it deviates from 150 BPM and from the major key. The same formula was applied to 126 songs from the past 50 years. The pattern was clear – the average tempo of a ‘feel good’-song (140-150 BPM) was substantially higher than the average pop song (118 BPM).

So, which songs made the happy place list? Okay. According to Dr Jolij’s research, here are the top ten feel good songs (and maybe the new playlist for the break room?):

10.  Walking on Sunshine (Katrina & the Waves)

9.   I Will Survive (Gloria Gaynor)

8.   Livin’ on a Prayer (Jon Bon Jovi)

7.   Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (Cyndi Lauper)

6.   I’m a Believer (The Monkeys)

5.   Eye of the Tiger (Survivor)

4.   Uptown Girl (Billy Joel)

3.   Good Vibrations (The Beach Boys)

2.   Dancing Queen (Abba)

And, (drumroll please) the number 1 feel good song of all time is

1.   Don’t Stop Me Now (Queen)

So, go on…  take a few minutes to feel good…. in the name of science. And, share your own top “feel good” song in the comments.  I’d love to know which tune moves you!

Dr. Melissa Hughes is the founder and principal of The Andrick Group. Our mission is to engage, inspire, and educate people to increase their capacity for learning and creativity. We do this by providing tailored, dynamic workshops that help organizations improve their work by understanding how the brain works and applying that to achieve greater productivity, professional growth, and personal satisfaction.  

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