Nothing can flip a mood from bad to good like cranking up your favorite summer jam. When “Juice” by Lizzo starts playing, my brain immediately switches gears. I could be feeling really bummed but when that song comes on, my gait speeds, a huge smile crosses my face and, for the moment, I feel positively awesome. Sure, Lizzo’s latest album is filled to the brim with messages of positivity and self-love, but the upbeat tempo does a lot to drive that positive message home. Does music literally have the power to motivate you and lift your mood?
Jeff Smith, Ph.D., consulting music professor at Stanford University, and co-founder/CEO of Smule, a social network for music aimed at bringing music back to its roots through performance, says music itself really can elevate your mood, and it does this by giving your brain an instant chemical boost.
“Studies have shown that listening to music engages neurochemical systems associated with reward and pleasure, as well as stress and arousal,” Smith explains. “Music triggers the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine — the “feel-good” hormone — and serotonin, which contribute to the euphoric feeling we get when we hear our favorite song.”
And, as it turns out, music may even influence how you walk and how motivated you are to move. One recent study of 24 young adults set out to determine how mood affects gait, and whether it could vary depending on how familiar you are with the music. After researchers observed how the young adults walked to music they liked and were familiar with vs. music they found unpleasant and unfamiliar, they found respondents walked faster and took longer strides while listening to their favorite songs.
So, what’s the special sauce of a feel-good, serotonin-boosting song? Are there common denominators in songs that make you smile and quicken your step? “At its core, music is an art form that enables creators to combine different musical elements and emotions to reveal a global observation and create a shared human experience,” explains Smith. “When approaching the songwriting process, musicians look for ways to conjure up familiarity by utilizing tried-and-true conventions, like time signature and chord progression. We see these manifested repeatedly in pop songs that feature the I–V–vi–IV chord progression, or the common 4/4 time signature that provides a base for most pop and rock songs,” he says.
Now that we’ve cracked the code of what comprises a mood-lifting song, we’d like to recommend four of our current faves to start your day off on the right foot.
This song is everywhere — and for good reason. This infectious dance song (as Smith mentioned, in 4/4 time!) spreads self-love like butter and has more than enough to share:
“If I'm shinin', everybody gonna shine (yeah, I'm goals)
I was born like this, don't even gotta try (now you know)
I'm like chardonnay, get better over time (so you know)”
If I'm shinin', everybody gonna shine.
We dare you not to move while giving this a listen. See for yourself.
Georgia, “About Work the Dance Floor”
Airy vocals soar over a hypnotic beat and simple synth melodies that hearken back to the 80s (or, more recently, Robyn) give this tune a positive lilt. With lyrics that seem to be about seizing a romantic moment, the robo-beat is addictive, relentless and solid, guaranteed to quicken your pace.
Give it a listen first thing in the morning and see what happens.
“Toast,” as sung by Jamaican songstress Koffee, is an upbeat, bouncy, infectious reggae-tinged ode to practicing gratitude, which has been scientifically proven to boost your mood.
Yeah, uh, yeahToast
We nuh rise and boast
Yeah we give thanks
We haffi give thanks like we really supposed to, be thankful!”
No matter what mood you’re in when you put this song on, you’ll reboot by the time it’s over.
Taylor Swift, “You Need to Calm Down”
Though it starts off a little slower in tempo, Swift’s sassy, confident stance against homophobia is delivered in layered harmonies over shimmery synths, driven by a beat that punctuates her message of tolerance (and inspires listeners to up their strut):
“You just need to take several seats and then try to restore the peace
And control your urges to scream about all the people you hate
'Cause shade never made anybody less gay”
Bonus: Her star-studded video of the song is deliciously tongue-in-cheek.
MORE "THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON"
- What the beach does to your brain
- Your brain on a diet
- Smiling can trick your brain into happiness (and boost your health)
- Your brain on prayer and meditation
- The science behind being 'hangry'
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