Ten Incredibly Positive Songs To Put You In a Good Mood

According to music therapists and Spotify, pressing play on these 10 tunes could transform your life

Nathan Leigh Jones
Mar 7 · 10 min read
Photo: Paulette Wooten

The right music can make you feel a whole lot better.

Skeptical? Well, it’s not such a crazy thought. Research shows that the most common reason people consume music is for managing their mood swings. (Clearly, some people need music more than others.)

This got me thinking. Which songs are most often used by music therapists that not only have the most transformative lyrics, but the most positive musical vibes?

Interestingly enough, there was a recent study that surveyed 316 board-certified music therapists. They listed their musical crème de la crème that they felt were most effective, lyrically, with their clients.

The number one song, used by 31 of the therapists?

Let It Be, by The Beatles.

It’s not hard to see why. It’s a classic, it’s extremely likeable, and it speaks actual words of wisdom about loosening our grip on the world around us. Mindfulness 101.

There’s a catch, though. According to Spotify’s API, Let It Be only has a valence score—or, a musical positiveness rating—of 41%.

Here’s why. Spotify only takes into consideration the sonic characteristics of a song—in this case, how ‘happy’ the song sounds. Lyrical sentiment isn’t accounted for, nor is the song’s usefulness for therapeutic purposes. Sometimes, particularly in therapy, a ‘sad’ song with melancholy lyrics can be just what we need to hear.

Still. Let’s not kill our vibe.

I was curious as to which of these 316 music therapy bangers were deemed to be the most positive songs, musically speaking, by Spotify.

We all have obscure tastes in music (even music therapists), so only the 48 most commonly-used songs were analysed by Spotify’s API. Out of these 48, the top 10 songs with the highest musical valence rating were selected.

Before we get giddy with happiness on the world’s top 10 positive songs, let’s not forget about the other half of the equation. The lyrics.

The King has spoken.

While lyrical content doesn’t have any bearing on the order of these results, I thought it was worth including a rating on this element too. After all, these songs were intially curated by music therapists based on their lyrical strength.

A tool I love using for text analysis is LIWC (Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count). What’s incredible about this software is that it gives you an indication of how emotionally charged a set of words is likely to be. Literally.

So, these 10 most ‘musically positive’ songs were also run through LIWC to get a reading of the ‘happiness level’ in the lyrics. Just for fun.

Here’s what my emoji-powered infographics will tell you:

🎹 = Happiness level of music (according to Spotify)
📝 = Happiness level of lyrics (according to LIWC)
📈 = Popularity amongst therapists (i.e. how common the songs are)

Bear in mind that the popularity rating amongst therapists will always be quite low, due to the ridiculous number of songs out there. To calculate this percentage, I took the number of therapists that used Let It Be (31 in total) and made it the ‘gold standard’. So, if 16 therapists used Song X, its popularity rating would be 52% (compared to the 100% popularity of Let It Be).

Got it? Good. Let’s turn up the music.

#10: Firework (Katy Perry)

🎹 ⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 65%
📝 ⬛️⬛️⬛️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 30%
📈 ⬛️⬛️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 19%

I know. I just gave you this mildly intelligent, pseudo-scientific introduction, only to post a massive picture of Katy Perry’s duck-face album cover that features the contemporary classic, Firework. Credibility lost? Understood.

Just hear me out, though. We’re talking about the most-used songs in music therapy, and while this tune isn’t exactly my favourite Katy bop (I can be a Katy Cat when I need to be), you can’t deny its overall positivity.

Often, we can take the position that life is pretty bleak, and that it’s never going to give us the opportunities we so deeply desire. This song reminds us that the spark we’re looking for is actually within us. Always. We just need to find the courage to ignite it.

Pyromaniacs, rejoice.

🎵 Get Firework by Katy Perry.

#9: Hand in My Pocket (Alanis Morissette)

🎹 ⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 67%
📝 ⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬜️ 93%
📈 ⬛️⬛️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 23%

Released in 1995, a year where being depressed seemed to be all the rage, this jam by Alanis is surprisingly positive. Sure, she insists on keeping one hand in her pocket (we can’t show too much excitement, can we?), but her lyrics offer a beautiful sense of acceptance for what simply is.

The song opens with the words, “I’m broke but I’m happy, I’m poor but I’m kind, I’m short but I’m healthy.” These paradoxes ooze a whole lot of honesty. While life doesn’t always go the way we think it should, this song reminds us that placing our identity in our problems isn’t the most helpful strategy.

It’s kind of like… rain on your wedding day. (Sorry Alanis.) Not particularly ironic, but full of acceptance that everything really is gonna be fine, fine, fine.

🎵 Get Hand in My Pocket by Alanis Morissette.

#8: Drive (Incubus)

🎹 ⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 67%
📝 ⬛️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 8%
📈 ⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 52%

Nineties fans, it’s your lucky day. Here’s another track from yester-century that celebrates the power of self-awareness. We’re in control of our future, and we have the ability to choose open-heartedness over fear.

While this song has a fairly high musical valence (67%) and is one of the most popular amongst therapists (52%), the lyrical positivity reading is unusually low at 8%. Of course, software like LIWC isn’t perfect, and words such as uncertainty, stinging, fear, vague and haunting have no doubt pulled the score into more negative territory.

That said, this song is the perfect antidote for negative thinking. We’re only human, and negative thoughts will naturally arise from time to time. While they’re welcome on the journey, we don’t need to let them drive.

🎵 Get Drive by Incubus.

#7: 3 Things (Jason Mraz)

🎹 ⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 71%
📝 ⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 63%
📈 ⬛️⬛️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 23%

Allow grief. Show gratitude. Find hope. These are the three things that Jason Mraz does when his life falls apart. I can’t think of any better advice.

Full disclosure: I’m a big fan of this song, and I’m really glad it made the top 10. Musically, it evokes a sense of wild wonder that connects you with everything good this world has to offer. The lyrics are top notch too.

While this track was never officially released as a single and is perhaps the least-known song of the bunch, it raises the bar for great therapeutic songs that both acknowledge the pain and offer some healing.

It all starts with three little things.

🎵 Get 3 Things by Jason Mraz.

#6: I Can See Clearly Now (Johnny Nash)

🎹 ⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 71%
📝 ⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️ 99%
📈 ⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 39%

Clarity. What a gift.

We’re not talking rose-coloured glasses—we’re talking that full 20/20 vision that can only emerge once you’ve been lost in the haziness. The kind of optimism you’ve earned, because you walked through that dark night of the soul. Go, you.

This classic by Johnny Nash could easily be dismissed as an upbeat Pollyanna-esque jam from 1970s but, as innocent and simple as the lyrics are, they’re grounded in reality. They don’t deny that the pain existed. They celebrate the fact that we made it out alive.

Thanks for the visit, depression. I can see clearly now.

🎵 Get I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash.

#5: Brave (Sara Bareilles)

🎹 ⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬜️⬜️ 76%
📝 ⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️ 96%
📈 ⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 52%

Here’s another popular song used by music therapists, and understandably so. Yes, it’s a song about bravery, but it’s about the trickiest kind of bravery — the bravery to be truly seen and heard.

So often, we’re told to put on a brave face. In this song, Sara encourages us to take off the mask we wear and to simply let the words fall out. Coupled with a catchy, up-tempo melody, this song almost makes you want to skip through the street and spill your deepest, darkest secrets to the closest stranger. (Yeah, maybe don’t do that.)

How big is your brave? Perhaps it’s time to find out.

🎵 Get Brave by Sara Bareilles.

#4: Don’t Worry Be Happy (Bobby McFerrin)

🎹 ⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬜️⬜️ 77%
📝 ⬛️⬛️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 17%
📈 ⬛️⬛️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 23%

All aboard. This song is a one-way ticket to Cringe Town.

Yes, it’s a cheesy number that’s almost hard to take seriously, but perhaps that’s the point. I mean, just look at the shoulder-shimmy we’re getting from Bobby on the album cover. Here’s here to have fun.

Mark my words, though. If I’m stressed, and someone shimmies their way over to inform me of my lack of happiness, I can tell you right now—this conversation isn’t going to end well. Yet, when coupled with the iconic opening whistle and those perky backing vocals, this simple message somehow manages to win you over.

Shut up, Bobby. I’m not smiling. Okay, maybe just a little.

🎵 Get Don’t Worry Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin.

#3: Don’t Stop (Fleetwood Mac)

🎹 ⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬜️⬜️ 83%
📝 ⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬜️⬜️ 75%
📈 ⬛️⬛️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 19%

“If you wake up and don’t want to smile…”. So begins this rollicking Fleetwood Mac classic that encourages us to find a new perspective on life.

While constantly ‘thinking about tomorrow’ can sometimes be problematic — today is more than enough to handle, thank you very much—it’s a beautiful reminder that we get a chance to start again with every new sunrise. No looking back.

Set this song as your morning alarm, and you’ll no doubt be bouncing your way out of bed and into the day that awaits.

🎵 Get Don’t Stop by Fleetwood Mac.

#2: Be Ok (Ingrid Michaelson)

🎹 ⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬜️ 93%
📝 ⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️ 99%
📈 ⬛️⬛️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 19%

You know what they say. If you want something bad enough, write it on your face. (I don’t think they’ve ever said that. Feel free to try, though.)

Sitting in the penultimate position is singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson with her upbeat ditty, Be Ok. While some of the lyrics are pretty raw (“I’m beyond repair, let me be, and give me back my broken parts”), her vulnerability is what makes this song so endearing.

The carefree, strumming guitar activates an element of happiness, while the honest lyrics keep the song grounded in the struggle of being human.

Sometimes, just hoping to be ok is more than enough.

🎵 Get Be Ok by Ingrid Michaelson.

#1: I Won’t Back Down (Tom Petty)

🎹 ⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️ 96%
📝 ⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬛️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 73%
📈 ⬛️⬛️⬛️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 29%

Coming in at #1 with a whopping 96% positivity score is the quintessential late-80s jam by Tom Petty, I Won’t Back Down. Sadly, he’s no longer with us, but his spirit certainly lives on.

You can’t ignore Petty’s grit and determination in this track, both musically and lyrically. When we know what’s right, we need all the strength we can muster to stand in our truth. This song delivers it in spades.

Next time you’re in a situation where you feel your deepest values are being compromised, take a second to plug into this song. Then, try backing down. Chances are, you probably won’t.

🎵 Get I Won’t Back Down by Tom Petty.

So, there you have it. The world’s 10 happiest songs for therapeutic use, listed by Spotify’s ‘musical positiveness’ score.

But, as you’ve probably gathered, musicality is only one piece of the puzzle. Lyrics matter too—sometimes, far more than we think.

If you’re interested in my research on music, lyrics and emotion at the University of Adelaide, I’d love to send you occasional updates and useful playlists, just like this one. You can sign up here.

But, before you go, can I tempt you to a bowl of hot, lyric soup? It’s nothing special, but hopefully it warms your heart. I made it just for you, using leftovers from the 10 songs you’ve just scrolled through.

I can? Great. Here it is.

It’s time to be that firework. You can keep one hand in your pocket, but the other hand needs to drive. Cultivate those 3 things—acceptance, gratitude and hope—and you’ll be seeing more clearly in no time. Be brave, don’t worry, and don’t stop. Why? Because it’s all going to be ok. Just don’t back down on who you truly are. Ever. Starting now.

Feeling better yet?

Don’t thank me. Thank the music.

Get these 10 tracks, plus another 38 of the most popular songs used by music therapists today, in an epic Spotify playlist. Access it here.

Nathan Leigh Jones

Written by

Creative communicator. PhD candidate. Helping change-makers amplify their voice.