‘I’m pickin’ up good vibrations’ from these jams

Illustration by Sadie Burns | The Signal

In the early morning, Georgia State student Serena White walked down the rainy, slick Atlanta streets. Her coat, unfortunately, had done little to protect her. Two speeding cars had already rushed through massive puddles on the road, splashing White. 

As the initial shock of the wave of water hitting her skin passed, White quickly tried to smile and laugh it off. She’s not going to let a puddle ruin her day. White took out her phone and searched for a song to brighten her mood. She saw the title and the album artwork of Sunday Moon’s single “Mirror”, and a smile already broke out on her face. White turned the volume up, and immediately, her day changed for the better. 

Music has the power to change one’s day from bad to better. Studies conducted at Bryan Memorial Hospital in Nebraska and St. Mary’s Hospital in Wisconsin show that patients who have just had surgery experience improved immunity when listening to happy music. Pregnant women who listen to happy music have experienced lowered blood pressure and stress levels. 

Scientifically, the tempo, lyrics and key of a song are all factors in a song sounding happy. Jacob Jolij, a Dutch neuroscientist, conducted a study to put together the 10 happiest songs on earth. Jolij’s formula for determining whether a song is happy included a fast tempo, positive lyrics and a major key.

Jolij conducted his study in a survey format, asking individuals what songs made them happy. His goal was to discover a pattern in these songs. It proved to be more difficult since many people may have positive associations or memories attached to a song that may not be particularly “happy.”

The study did find a pattern in the music, specifically when it came to the tempo and key. The average pop song has a tempo of 118 beats per minute. Jolij discovered that the happiest songs have a tempo at around 140-150 BPM. A fast tempo paired with a major key results in some of the happiest songs on earth, according to Jolij. 

With these factors in mind, he created a playlist of 10 songs that he called “the happiest songs on earth.” He took some of the most popular songs over the decades and found that they fit this formula. Some of the songs included “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen, “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys and “Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel. 

The content of the lyrics of the song is also a factor: Most of the songs on Jolij’s list have to do with dancing, partying, love or motivation

The list definitely captures some of the happiest songs of all time, but there are many happy songs to which people listen that are not included. Here are some happy song suggestions from fellow Georgia State students as well as professors.

“Mirror” by Sunday Moon

This suggestion comes from White. Though the song has a slower tempo, she says that the song gives her a sort of happy calm.

“[I think] it’s the tempo and vibes that just make me feel happy and chill,” White said. 

This song is in a major key and uses all seventh chords. Researchers for The Royal Society have found that seventh chords, whether they are major or minor, are the happiest chords in music. The song is also in the key of D major, which is known to be the “key of triumph.” Many holiday songs and symphonies are written in this key.

“Sunflower” by Post Malone and Swae Lee

This is another suggestion from White. She explained the excitement she feels when she hears the song or another one of her favorite happy songs. 

“I think it’s the lyrics with this one. It just makes me excited when it comes on,” White said. “It makes me so happy, [and] I can’t help but to sing along every time.”

The lyrics are slightly bittersweet, but the theme of love is common among some of the happiest songs of all time. The theme of love paired with a key in D major makes this song a great addition. 

“All You Need is Love” by the Beatles

This suggestion comes from Georgia State journalism professor Donna Krache.  

“There are a lot of songs that make me happy, but ‘All You Need is Love’ always makes me happy,” Krache said. “The lyrics are just great. I love that song.”

Fittingly, “All You Need is Love” is set in G major, which is the key to expressing heartfelt emotions. It is also the key that is associated with friendship and love.  

“Hawkshaw” by Ryan Beatty

Georgia State student Manuela Flechas suggested this song, saying that the lyrics and tone of the song never fail to put her in a good mood.

“The tone is just very cute, and the lyrics talk about someone he loves that’s stuck on his mind,” Flechas said. 

“Hawkshaw” is in the key of A major, which indicates innocent love and youthful cheerfulness. The lyrics, though slightly bittersweet, tell a story of young love and infatuation. 

“Take It or Leave It” by Cage the Elephant

Flechas expressed excitement about this song, in particular, noting Cage the Elephant as one of her favorite bands. 

“This song, and other Cage the Elephant songs, are the kind of songs that I always turn up really loud in my car,” Flechas said. “I will sing it at the top of my lungs, and it always makes the day better.”

“Take It or Leave It” is written in C major. This key is often associated with purity, innocence and simplicity. Love, whether it is bittersweet or paired with desperation or longing, is a common theme among happy songs. This song is no exception. 

Although none of the songs on this list fit the tempo formula created by Jolij, they show the versatility of happy music. Quite a few songs on this list have lyrics that could even be considered somber. But this just shows that the emerging generation of music that makes listeners happy is breaking the mold in more ways than one.