"Feel-Good Music": It's All About the Math
I have to agree wholeheartedly with Plato when he said, “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” I’ve written in the past about how music can do everything from making you more productive to making you healthier. You have to admit it, there is just something about a great song that can totally change your day, even if only temporarily. Then again, there are some songs that can almost instantly bring tears to our eyes even in our greatest moods. Music is powerful like that.
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So if we all agree that music can have an almost mystical control over our emotions, what would be the all-time greatest “feel-good song”, and how would you determine that? Dutch neuroscientist Jacob Jolij thinks he has the answer. In a study that was commissioned by the British electronics company Alba, 2,013 people in the UK were surveyed about what songs made them feel good. They then turned the database of results over to Jolij, who then developed a mathematical model to determine what the greatest feel-good song of the last 50 years was. According to Jolij, “I looked at the scientific literature in terms of what makes us feel good — primarily tempo and key. So I went through all the scores and sheet music from the songs to look at key and tempo, but also lyrics. Then I tried to fit a regression model, a mathematical technique, to see which songs could be listed as feel-good.”
With all this data, Jolij developed what he calls the “Feel Good Index” or FGI. This equation is a combination of the song’s key, tempo, and positive references in the lyrics. His theory is pretty simple: The higher a song’s FGI – the better it makes you feel. Some of the keys to a happy song that he found are a fast tempo (150 beats per minute) and a third major musical key. on paper it looks like this:
Read: 15 Amazing Effects Music Has On Your Health (Backed By Science)
So what were the results? According to Jolij’s FGI, “The number one feel-good song is ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ by Queen — it’s quite a bit faster than the average song, plus it’s in a major key that works quite well, and if you look at the lyrics, they are very positive.’Don’t Stop Me Now’ is an excellent example of a feel-good song.”
The Top 10 Feel-Good Songs according to the FGI:
1. Don’t Stop Me Now (Queen)
2. Dancing Queen (Abba)
3. Good Vibrations (The Beach Boys)
4. Uptown Girl (Billy Joel)
5. Eye of The Tiger (Survivor)
6. I’m a Believer (The Monkeys)
7. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (Cyndi Lauper)
8. Livin’ on a Prayer (Bon Jovi)
9. I Will Survive (Gloria Gaynor)
10. Walking on Sunshine (Katrina and the Waves)
Read: How to Choose Music for Optimal Productivity
I challenge you to try to listen to these songs in order the next time you are having a tough day, and see if you don’t feel at least a little more upbeat. The results might just surprise you.