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Holding It All Together-A Happy Song

By Amy McCollom
Hey, play me a song that will make me happy. Seriously. If you are under 40, you have a playlist full of songs from which to choose. If you are a little older, say my age, you probably still have CD’s and maybe some records, and just maybe an Ipod or something like that from where you could find a great song. Or you can just pull something up on YouTube from your phone.

But what song will make me happy? Do songs really do that? I mean, not everyone likes the same kind of music, so how are we going to know what song would make someone happy? Honestly, John Denver singing doesn’t affect everyone the same way. Neither does Lynyrd Skynyrd or Kiss, or Andrea Bocelli. But there is a science to music, believe it or not.

A researcher in cognitive neuroscience, Dr. Jacob Jolij, a neuroscientist at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, has come up with a formula for a song’s capacity to make you feel good based on certain criteria. The criteria that was judged were: the tempo, the positivity of the words, and if the song was in a major or minor key. Based on his studies, he came up with a list of his top ten songs that should make you feel good while hearing them. Although they may be a little outdated, these are his picks:

1.  Don’t Stop Me Now (Queen)

2.  Dancing Queen (ABBA)

3.  Good Vibrations (The Beach Boys)

4.  Uptown Girl (Billy Joel)

5.  Eye Of The Tiger (Survivor)

6.  I’m A Believer (The Monkeys)

7.  Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (Cyndi Lauper)

8.  Livin’ On A Prayer (Jon Bon Jovi)

9.  I Will Survive (Gloria Gaynor)

10. Walking On Sunshine (Katrina And The Waves)

I can agree that some of these songs do make me feel good when listening to them. Some are really “Pump You Up” songs, like Eye Of The Tiger. That’s one that my son used to listen to before he went to every basketball practice and game. 

When my grand daughters were smaller and would come over more often, I would put YouTube on the television and we would play bucket drums to “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, only they have a Minions video version, which was our favorite. I think that song should be added to the top ten list because you just can’t listen to that song without tapping your feet and feeling something! If that song doesn’t light your fire, your woods are wet! 

So the tempo, the first factor in Dr. Jolij’s formula for a happy song, he says, has to be at least 140 – 150 beats per minute. Now, I play the drums, and that is a pretty fast rhythm right there. I could break a hip playing a song like that for too long. 

The second factor is the song needs to be in a major key. I’m not big fans of minor key songs anyways; they always sound a little “off” to me, so there’s that. I think he got that one right on the nose.

And the third factor, the lyrics need to be positive and have a good uplifting message, or not make sense at all. A sad message will definitely kill the happiness factor. I agree, a song can be silly and still be happy. Ting tang walla walla bing bang, right?

And although the songs on Dr. Jolijs Happy Song List are older songs, he didn’t choose them that way on purpose. The songs from the 80’s and before were just more feel good, he discovered. I guess when the 90’s hit so did Emo, punk, and a lot of other genres that weren’t that uplifting. The world changed and the music reflects that.

But wait, there’s more. In another study done by the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, it was discovered that listening to music released dopamine into the brain causing sensations noted as chills – with actual physical changes in heart rate, breathing, and temperature, due to listening to music. Music can be a powerful thing.

This research team found that five songs in particular produced a measurable dopamine release in the brain significant enough to cause chills, and also increased happiness. Trust me, you’ll probably recognize these songs, as I did. Take a listen. See if they give you emotions.

1.  “Clair de Lune” — Debussy

2.  “Adagio for Strings” — Barber

3.  “Piano Sonata No. 17 in D Minor (“The Tempest”)” — Beethoven

4.  “First Breath After Coma” — Explosions in the Sky

5.  “Adagio for Strings” — Tiesto

I have decided I need to make happy music a part of my day, every day. Who wouldn’t want some good chills and happiness? So perhaps I need to set up a playlist; I’ll have to recruit one of my kid’s help for that. But I definitely need more music this year, for sure. I believe we could all use a happy song, don’t you think? Stay on a high note, and next time someone asks, have a song ready to make somebody happy. Peace out.

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