Music expert reveals secret to world’s happiest songs

Pick up on these good vibrations.

A UK researcher is revealing the songs most likely to make listeners feel happy — and it all boils down to a simple formula.

Dr. Michael Bonshor, who teaches music psychology at the University of Sheffield, claims the winning combination for a joyful score is: A major key, 7th chords, 137 beats per minute, a strong beat, four beats in every bar, and a verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure.

It’s what reportedly makes “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys one of the world’s happiest songs, along with “I Got You” by James Brown, “Get the Party Started” by Pink, and “Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel.

“Previous studies have found songs are perceived as happy if they are in a major key, with a sweet spot of approximately 137 beats per minute,” Bonshor said in a statement to media outlets.

Man dancing in kitchen wearing headphones and bathrobe
Upbeat songs with a certain cadence and key are believed to elicit more joy.
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“We like ‘7th chords’ as they add interest; regular chords use three notes, whereas ‘7th chords’ add an extra note which provides a sense of musical ‘tension’ and ‘relief.’”

The catchy tracks tend to be pop songs with repeated riffs, a strong beat and a bright tone.

“We like high volume when it comes to how our happy songs are made, with notes played in a bright and bouncy way by instruments such as trumpets or electric guitars instead of mellower instruments,” Bonshor added. “Finally, a repetitive rhythm or guitar riff that people can latch onto and becomes memorable is the cherry on the cake.”

To put the happiness formula to the test, producers Jamie P and Oliver Price created an upbeat track called “The Lighter Note,” which was commissioned by UK yogurt brand Müllerlight. Available on Soundcloud, the lyric-less tune is bright, cheery and fast-paced — according to Bonshor, the perfect song to evoke happiness.

Girl listening to music on public transportation with headphones on
Tunes such as “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys match the musical formula Dr. Michael Bonshor touts.
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In a Brit-based poll recently commissioned by Müllerlight, 71% of the 2,000 respondents revealed that music has a powerful impact on their overall mood, with 64% of people saying they use music to spark joy.

Past studies have linked music to influencing moods, behaviors and even concentration.

Research published last year showed that students who jam out while studying actually earned higher GPAs, while another 2022 study found that surgeons who listened to AC/DC in the operating room were quicker and more accurate.

“It is possible that music with high rhythmicity could provide a tempo to keep up the speed of the performance and thus enhance task performance,” German researcher Cui Yang, of Heidelberg University, noted in the journal Langenbeck’s Archives of Surgery.