William Irwin Ph.D.

Plato on Pop

How to Be 1 Percent Happier

The happy songs playlist

Posted Jun 04, 2014

I drive my ten-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter to school each morning. We’ve listened to Disney soundtracks and Star Wars soundtracks, but my children have no great musical preference. A few weeks ago I decided that instead of listening to the songs of Phineas and Ferb yet again, I would play music of my choosing. But alas, my favorite music is hard rock and heavy metal. I do play some of this music for my ten-year-old son when we are riding alone in the car together, but Black Sabbath and Metallica are not the soundtrack for sending the children off to school, especially since they tend to snipe and gripe at one another on our ten minute ride anyway.

I wanted happy music for the ride, but the problem was that there were few purely happy songs among the thousands of selections on my iPod. I came up with a few Beatles songs, “Here Comes the Sun,” “Good Day Sunshine,” and “Twist and Shout.” Boston too has some wonderfully positive songs like “Peace of Mind” and “Don’t Look Back.” But my list came to an end pretty quickly.

Ever since I was a teenager, music has been important for me as a way of purging negative emotions, particularly sadness and anger. Of course, the music and lyrics of sad or angry songs likely serve the same purpose for their creators, cleansing them of those feelings. It’s no wonder, then, that authentically happy songs are so rare. No one needs to be cleansed of happiness, and when someone feels moved to express happiness in song the result is most often trite, lacking depth and substance.

Because of their scarcity, happy songs that resonate with me are all the more valuable. Finding just a handful scrolling through my iPod and my mind, I turned to Facebook with the request. My friends graciously indulged me with over one hundred suggestions. Some of the songs were already there, buried deep in my iPod, like Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds,” R.E.M.’s “Man on the Moon,” and the Ramones’ “Rockaway Beach.” Other suggestions took me to iTunes to download childhood favorites like the theme from Happy Days and the Brady Bunch’s “It’s a Sunshine Day.”

Lots of younger friends and former students suggested songs I had never heard before. I dutifully downloaded them all, but few of them really worked for me. I find Pharrell’s “Happy” creepy. But hey, that’s just me. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks or an old listener new sounds. Some of my favorite suggestions reached back to long before I was born with classics such as Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” and “Cheek to Cheek.”

Other songs surprised me because I either don’t like the band or the song or both. For instance, my favorite three-songs-in-a-row on my Happy playlist is Van Halen’s “Jump,” followed by U2’s “Beautiful Day,” and then Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” It pains me to admit it, but that trio really lifts my mood, which, after all, is the point of this.

Airports pipe in soothing classical music to keep irritated travelers calm. I wasn’t ready to go that far in soothing the savage beasts within my children for the short ride to school, but a few happy songs couldn’t hurt. I have only anecdotal evidence to report, but the soundtrack seems to have helped. Of course it could have been the change from winter to spring or a thousand other things, but the level of griping and sniping in the car seems to have diminished. Has the music sent them on to have happier days? Who knows? But I do think it has made me happier. No, I don’t mean happier in some grand philosophical sense like Aristotelian flourishing. I just mean that it has put me in a pleasant state of mind to start the day.

The Happy songs playlist has made me about 1% happier. Your results may vary. Give it a try. Here’s what’s on my list. Tell me what’s on yours.

My Happy Songs

“Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina & the Waves

“Lovely Day” by Bill Withers.

“Blue Sky” The Allman Brother Band

“All the Time in the World” by the Subdudes

“Good Day Sunshine” by The Beatles

“Peg” by Steely Dan

“Anything Goes” by AC/DC

“The Spirit of Radio” by Rush

“Beginnings” by Chicago

“Let the Children Play / Carnaval” by Santana

“Man on the Moon” by R.E.M.

“Rockaway Beach” by The Ramones

“Jump” by Van Halen

“Beautiful Day” by U2

 “Don't Stop Believin'” by Journey

"Three Little Birds" by Bob Marley

“Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles

“Cheek to Cheek” by Louis Armstrong

“Don't Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin

 “In the Summertime” by Mungo Jerry

“Jessica” by the Allman Brothers Band

“What I like about You” by The Romantics

“Don’t Look Back” by Boston

“Pencil Thin Mustache” by Jimmy Buffet

“My Girl” by The Temptations

“Sunshine Day” by the Brady Bunch

“Happy Days (Happy Days theme)” by Pratt & Mclean

“The Best” by Tina Turner

“Best Is Yet To Come” by Frank Sinatra

“Put on a Happy Face” by Tony Bennett

“I Feel Good” by James Brown

“Peace of Mind” by Boston

“Everybody Have Fun Tonight” by Wang Chung

“Beautiful Morning” by The Rascals

“Up, Up and Away” by The 5th Dimension 

“What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong

“Twist And Shout” by The Beatles

“Fun, Fun, Fun” by The Beach Boys

“I’m a Believer” by The Monkees

“Celebration” by Kool & the Gang

“Kokomo” by The Beach Boys

“Summertime Girls” by Y&T

“I’ll Be There for You (Friends theme song)” by The Rembrandts

“What is Life” by George Harrison

“Take it Away” by Paul McCartney

“Mess Around” by Ray Charles

“Aquarius” by The 5th Dimension

“Centerfield” by John Fogerty

“Kyrie” by Mr. Mister

“Sing a Song” Earth Wind & Fire

“I Wish I Had a Girl” by Henry Lee Summer

“We Are Family” Sister Sledge

“Greatest American Hero (theme song) by Joey Scarbury

“Africa” by Toto