Want to Feel Happier? Listen to a Favorite Song.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

Research demonstrates – and everyday experience confirms – that one of the simplest, easiest ways to boost your mood and your energy is to listen to your favorite upbeat music. Music can have an enormous influence on your state of mind (of course, it can make you feel melancholy as well as happy). In fact, studies show that listening to a choice of music during medical procedures can lower a patient’s heart rate, blood pressure, and anxiety level.

So, if you’re feeling blue, put on some of your favorite cheerful music. It can have a quick and dramatic effect. It’s a particularly useful strategy when you feel exhausted or overwhelmed; tackling a nagging task boosts happiness, too, but it’s not the same kind of quick fix.

I experienced this phenomenon this morning. One thing that I’ve accepted about myself, as I follow my Personal Commandment to Be Gretchen, is that I don’t have much appreciation for music. I wish I enjoyed music more, but I don’t.

I rarely listen to music; sometimes I wear my iPod when I’m exercising, but not often. Every once in a while, though, I fixate on a song I really love.

This morning, for some reason, I thought of an old favorite as I was helping my younger daughter get dressed for school. She’s on an audiobook kick, so she hasn’t been listening to music much, but I pulled out Laurie Berkner’s terrific CD Buzz Buzz
and skipped ahead to my favorite song, “There’s a Little Wheel A-Turnin’ in My Heart.”

Ah, I felt my mood soar. I love that song. And I love the title! Very Buddhist.

I wish I could include a clip, but I can’t figure out how to link to the sample on iTunes, and I couldn’t find one anywhere else. (Please post if you find it.)

Is there a particular song you know will boost your mood, if you listen to it? Do you play it when you need a lift?

* I loved this story about a pothole gardener. A British bicyclist who is also a “mad keen gardener” planted flowers in potholes to put other bicyclists on the alert.

* The book The Happiness Project has been bouncing around the New York Times bestseller list for SEVENTEEN WEEKS now! – including hitting #1! Yay! You can…
Order your copy!
Read sample chapters!
Watch the one-minute book trailer!
Join the discussion on the Facebook Page!
Watch the 30-second commercial that aired on TV!

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • KCDebi

    I’m not sure if you read sportswriter Joe Posnanski, but in his blog he had an exercise where he listed songs that always make him happy – only 1 song per artist. The original post had around 100 songs, but after further reflection and suggestions from commenters, the list ballooned to around 300.

    I’ve been thinking that a wonderful happiness exercise for myself would be to put my own list together. When I hear songs pop up on my iPod or the radio, I tell myself “that goes on the list” but I haven’t started writing it down yet. I wonder how many I could come up with 🙂

  • gimmemick

    I am most definitely music person. I could go broke on the money I spend for concerts and CDs. So I’m already on track with knowing that songs can make one feel happier and I definitely know it’s true for me.

    Before I had even read this post today, I was driving thinking that I didn’t even feel like facing the day much less going to work. I reached into the console of my car and found a CD by my favorite group, The Rolling Stones. Moments later I was enjoying Jumpin’ Jack Flash and thinking, wow this is such a great song, no matter how many times I’ve heard it! Immediately other ideas of happiness floated into mind—seeing the Stones in concert and the fun we had and how we decided at the last minute to buy tickets and make the five-hour drive to the show. I also remembered my brother mimicking Mick Jagger in our living room at a party when we were in our teens and how much everyone enjoyed his performance. Further into my drive, I was listening to You Can Always Get What You Want, another favorite, and thought, yes, I need to remember that. That needs to be my thought for the day.

    I think that’s why music is happiness-boosting because if it’s a song you love, it conjures memories of times when you heard it when you felt truly happy. For me, it’s a good reminder that I am capable of high levels of happiness, something I often forget.

  • HistoryBuff2

    The two songs that really get me happy are:

    U2 – Beautiful Day
    REM – Shiny Happy People

    Saw you on the Today show this morning!
    Congrats on your success!
    I look forward to reading the book soon!

    • gretchenrubin

      I love that REM song! Off to see if I recognize the U2 song. I’ve probably
      heard it but am not recalling it right now.

  • Pat Tremblay

    Hi, I’m from Canada (Quebec) so I try to discover and listen as many artists from Canada that I can. There’s a lot of good band but my favorite is Blue Rodeo. Every time I’m felling sad or when I need a good boost, I listen there album “Five days in July (1994)” All songs are great and there’s even a contribution from my favorite singer and songwriter Sarah McLachlan. It’s pure happiness to me. I highly recommend this album to everyone. Bye.

  • I’m so with you on this.
    I love music, and I studied music when I was younger. Then I realized that it doesn’t matter if you are “into” music. You love what you love and who cares if it’s a cheesy top 40 hit that gets you moving?
    When I know that I’m coming into a crazy hectic day at work, I always listen to my ipod on the train and just decompress.
    I’m loving the music from Glee. I think I’ve downloaded all of the songs.
    And, at work when I’m trying to write I always listen to music (some people can’t write and listen to music, but for me a familiar song on repeat keeps me going.)

  • Great post! I’ve discovered that when I’m in a bad mood or feeling moody, if I stop what I’m doing and do something that always makes me happy (like posting a new recipe to my SavvyAuthors.com column or writing a post for my blog).

    And as you pointed out, music always works. There’s nothing that a little Incubus or Seether can’t fix. At least for me… 🙂

  • Christine

    “Say Hey” by Michael Franti.

    Always works! And sometimes the morning DJ plays it right as I’m turning into work so I can sit in the car and get psyched up for the day. I think I might listen to it right now!

  • mlebarron

    You can use http://apple.com/itunes/linkmaker/ for creating links to itunes songs.

  • MDP

    I always make sure I have a few songs on my cell phone for when I need an emergency dose of relaxation (Hey Jude was my chill-out anthem before I was even old enough to know who the Beatles were), concentration (oddly, I’m finding the Pet Shop Boys good for this lately – no idea why!), energizing (this one varies a lot) or cheering up (Snowed Under by Keane has been tops for a long time).

    I also have a couple of albums I’ve learned to go to for serious mood boost – they aren’t necessarily my objective favorites, but they were part of particular seasons in my life that carry a lot of positive associations. When I’m at the end of one of those, “just let me hide under the bed in the fetal position” days, the right music can take me back to some of the feelings of a better moment. Which is pretty amazing, when you think about it.

  • jenDC

    Music can definitely be uplifting. When I’m in a mood, I love to blast music in the car while driving. During college, my best friend and I would always listen to Celine Dion’s A New Day. That hasn’t changes must. Another good one is Don’t Stop Believing by Journey!

  • Springsteen.

    Though, to be honest, I probably play it in all moods, for all reasons.

  • I’ve often thought that if I could somehow have an MP3 player implanted in my head, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

    Listening to music makes everything easier for me; it makes chores that I usually loathe fly by, makes my commute into work tolerable and — like you assert — cheers me up when I’m feeling down.

    At any given time if I’m not actively listening to music, I’ve got a song floating around my head, keeping me company.

    Definitely a key to happiness for me.

  • christinedepoto

    People are learning that they have a choice in how they feel based on what they do to navigate their life. Yes it is about the small things. Though making the bed will work for some and not others because it has to be founded in your own nature. I’m working on a book Staying Power that gets into the specifics of your internal landscape so that you can target those activities that work for you. Though it can be fun trying things …. I like to hit a direct target myself. Check out my blog: stayingpwr.blogspot.com. I’ll have sample chapters and next week a questionnaire.

  • Music is great for the feel good buzz but what I love best is the be around happy people. Folks with cobwebs around them I give a swerve but those who laugh, have a positive outlook and are open to the new and fresh get my company all the time

  • Gretchen, this is so true! I love music of all kinds and it definitely helps bolster a blue mood. Since I’m from the Detroit, MI area and grew up in the sixties, my favorite is Motown music. Music is good for the soul. I also like to listen to musical meditation cds before bedtime, which helps enhance sleep, at least in my case.

  • Sandrine

    You know what’s even better, dancing in the living room on your favourite songs, that boosts your mood. Or dance on hiphop/jump style music, try to imitate them (see YouTube, search ‘jumpstyle’). It’s fun. I just did it with my husband and I feel so good now. Your kids gonna love it. Greetings from the Netherlands.

  • This may be a slight twist off point but I heard where a plant was placed in a room where classical music was being played and it grew faster but a plant that was placed in a room where heavy metal was playing withered and died. I’ve also heard a statistic that 30 minutes of classical music is equivalent to a dose of Valium. But not just classical music, most any music is key to changing our mood for the better. Thanks for sharing, Gretchen!!

  • Caitlin

    This may seem a rather obvious choice, but when I was in a bad mood in college my roommate would always turn on “Don’t worry, be happy” and inevitably by the whistling part I would be laughing, no matter how mad I was when I walked in the room.

  • Melony

    My current “feel good” song is The Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling”. It always makes me smile. And the video from Oprah’s Chicago anniversary show is awesome! Oprah’s reaction is icing on the cake!!


  • Kim

    Music is such an important part of my life. Lifts up, makes my heart light, puts lyrics (words), beat, tone to my moods. I enjoy all types of music. Hip/Hop, Alternative, Country, Rock… Right now, I’m continually, listening to Chris Brown’s “Forever”, INXS “Mystify”, George Michaels “Freedom”. I find myself breezing through with joy, tasks, while I dance/sing. It also makes those around me happy. It’s hard not to smile or laugh when someone is dancing, smiling and even singing outload “All you gotta do is watch me, look at what I can do with my feet, see what I can do…Forever on the dance floor!” I’ve had regular, singing/dance sessions at work and home.

  • ebeckartist

    good day sunshine ….. the beatles
    i’m walking on sunshine … katrina and the waves
    pocket full of sunshine …. natasha benefield
    sunshine on my shoulder … john denver
    here comes the sun … the beatles
    you are my sunshine … my children

  • Anoel

    Wow, I’ve never actually talked to or read that someone isn’t into music before. For me, music is life even if I’m not a *music person* as in getting a ton of music stuff. But if I want to instantly get in an uplifting mood I put on some Lady GaGa who is a master at writing addictive, fun, happy songs that put me in a good mood. This is also the reason why schools trying to forbid music during free time (study hall, free periods, in between classes) astound me because nothing helps a school day like an uplift of good music.

  • Love this comment on music. It is so powerful. I often play a few of my favorite up and motivational tunes before I speak. Two of my favorites are: Pump it Up – Black Eyed Peas and Ain’t No Mountain High Enough sung by Michael McDonald.

  • Rat

    I agree with the happy music! I don’t own a radio any longer, but made a point of pulling up some old music I had not listened to in a long time. I danced around my dining room with my dachshund in my pajamas! What a marvalous time! (of course Deuce thinks I’m crazy!)

  • T2

    If you add driving with the windows open to listening to your favorite song, I think the effect is quadrupled.

    A few suggestions:
    Life is a Highway – Eddie Money
    Iko Iko – Rainman soundtrack
    Feelin’ Good – Nina Simone
    Code Monkey – Jonathon Coulton
    It’s a Great Day to Be Alive – Travis Tritt

    As for not apreciating music, you’re not alone. My boyfriend could easily go the rest of his life without music. But even he sings along to Jim Crocce’s Bad Bad Leroy Brown.

  • Guest

    Music is an important part of my day and my mood can reflect the songs I listen to, and conversely the songs I listen to can boost my mood.

    I love lyrics, so they’re often integral in the songs that cheer me up. My favourites:

    Happy by Natasha Bedingfield
    (Got my dreams, got my life, got my love
    Got my friends got the sunshine above
    Why am I making this hard on myself
    When there’s so many beautiful reasons I have to be happy)

    Put Your Records On by Corinne Bailey Rae
    (Girl Put Your Records On,
    Tell me your favourite song,
    You go ahead let your hair down)

    Thank You For the Music by Abba
    (Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty
    What would life be?
    Without a song or a dance what are we?
    So I say thank you for the music
    For giving it to me)

    For just a pick me up, I love upbeat songs like Viva La Vida by Coldplay, Beautiful Day by U2, Uprising by Muse and Everybody’s Changing by Keane…these definitely wake me up.

    Great post! Happy I didn’t miss this one!

  • Sarah

    I definitely recommend dave matthews band for a pick me up…their most recent album or some older favorites like “Two Step” or “Warehouse.” I dont know anyone who doesnt love those songs.

  • Lisa O’D

    Heavenly Day by Patty Griffin. Carpe diem!

  • aml216

    Obladi-oblada by the Beatles

  • I’ve been listening to Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds a lot recently. Beautiful song, really fun too!

  • Hi Gretchen,

    Just caught your post today. I also rarely listen to music. So I think you’ll appreciate this bit of info:

    Way back in November when my friend Cheri returned from her Livestrong week at Canyon Ranch she explained to me why music is especially important for left-brained language-driven people like me.

    If most of your time is spent with left-brained activities like reading and writing, you need to balance yourself out–and slow down all that left-brained stimulation with right-brained activities, like exercise (check), painting, or music.

    The Canyon Ranch folks advise left-brainers to sometimes just take a break and turn off the words and language in the evening–yes, that means the computer, TV, and even reading books–and just sit in a chair and listen to music. But that sounds so hard to do!

    I get an amazing lift when I recently found my long lost Ellis Paul DVD–here’s the music–see if it works for you, too.

    “The World Ain’t Slowing Down – But I Am – Roasting Vegetables & Listening to Ellis Paul”


  • http://lala.com/z4OvY

    Here’s a link to the song 🙂

  • Kate

    I love music, but I can’t usually WORK to music unless it’s very abstract… what’s sometimes called “ambient” or “trance.” That’s because if there are lyrics, my brain will zero in on them and that will be all I can do, and if it’s classical instrumental music, I have to close my eyes and LISTEN. (To me, treating Bach as background is like using the Mona Lisa as a doormat.)

    But as for the songs that can cheer me up… my word, where to start? “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “Sing, Sing a Song,”
    “Cockeyed Optimist,” “Feelin’ Good,” “Who Will Buy This Wonderful Morning,” (and I’m not even a morning person!),
    “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” …. the list goes on and on and ON, and I haven’t even gotten to the classics and opera and religious songs of joy!

    Okay, I was a music major, with a minor in voice.

  • Sarah Bee

    It’s a bit of a cliche, but ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” never fails to put me in a swinging good mood!

  • Kelsey

    Balmes (A Better Life) by Ian Pooley and Esthero always makes me feel better.

  • Barbara@BabyBloggingBoomer

    Gretchen, you are so right. If I start signing it makes the day pass so much faster. Of course, it may be longer for anyone that has to listen to me…
    Seriously, I posted a link to your blog and this article on my blog to remind my friends and family how important attending to your own happiness is.

  • I like your words that music can have an huge influence on our state of mind. I really like it! Thanks for sharing this post.

  • Kelsey

    Here’s a link to a cute version of the song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_HJ0u0vs_0E