What is your happy song? According to one Dutch neuroscientist, most happy songs have some distinctive traits in common. Several years ago, Dr. Jacob Jolij—at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands—was asked to examine a list of favorite songs compiled by the UK-based electronica band Alba. Although not a peer reviewed study, his investigation discovered several trends among the given examples of perky music. “Happy” or “feel good” songs have significantly faster tempos than average pop music, they tend to have cheerful lyrics, and are more often in a major key.
When Jolij was first approached to examine the data set of happy songs, he had to take a qualitative method to analyze trends within the set. As a researcher, he emphasized on his website that what makes a happy song is “highly personal and strongly depends on social context and personal associations.” Each song in the data set was chosen by the surveyed person for personal reasons, but analysis of musical technicalities provided some hard data. The songs averaged 140 to 150 beats per minute, a tempo that’s about 20 or more beats higher than the average pop tune. This upbeat rhythm probably subliminally reenergizes listeners. The surveyed songs were also much more likely to be in a major key rather than a minor key. Jolij commented that a major third key, specifically, is recieved as a happy, confident sound.
Jolij also examined the lyrics. He described most happy songs as having either cheery, nonsensical lyrics or lyrics which described happy events and positive, fun emotions. Parties, love, dancing—all are good fodder for a happy tune. Jolij then took all his findings and combined them into a mathematic formula. Not a rigorous predictor of happy songs, the formula mostly served to test his theories on tempo and tones. Tested on songs designated as happy by Dutch listeners, the algorithm continued to support the trends Jolij discovered.
While most scholarly research ends in journal article, this project culminates in a playlist by Jolij of 10 of the happiest songs from past decades. This list is sure to brighten your day with some throw-back tunes.
Neuroscientist Dr. Jacob Jolij has found the happiest songs on earth…according to careful scientific research. Take a listen and be the judge for yourself.
1. “Don't Stop Me Now” by Queen, 1978
2. “Dancing Queen” by ABBA, 1976
3. “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys, 1966
4. “Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel, 1983
5. “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor, 1982
6. “I'm a Believer” by The Monkees, 1966
7. “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper, 1983
8. “Living on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi, 1986
9. “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor, 1978
10. “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina & the Waves, 1985