What kind of music captures your emotions, gives you that exhilarating feeling of chills, and maybe even brings a tear or two to you? In a fascinatingstudy, researchers from Queen Mary University of London, UK, tried to answer this question by analyzing 988 songs and tracks that allegedly provoked this emotional reaction. Then they compared them to similar pieces by the same artists that don’t seem to have the same effect.
Based on these comparisons, they discovered that certain specific qualities can cause a piece of music to give you goosebumps – or piloerections, to use the scientific term. Music like this has the best chance of improving your mood when you’re feeling frustrated, sad, or emotionally drained. Use it to give yourself a quick boost when you need it most.
To help you do this, study authors Rémi de Fleurian and Marcus Pearce have created a very diverse playlist of 715 songs and musical pieces likely to give you chills and posted it on Spotify. Next time you’re feeling down, try listening to a song or two from this playlist. It will almost certainly change your mood for the better.
What kind of music makes people feel good?
Music is one of the most powerful tools you have to create or change emotions. (If you doubt that, I suggest picking up one of your favorite movies and watching it again, paying close attention to the background music and how those sounds make you feel.)
But it’s not always obvious how to use this tool on yourself. If you’re sad, worried, or angry, it certainly doesn’t help to listen to upbeat, upbeat music. This fact is beautifully illustrated by this disturbing clip from the 1989 film Roger and me on the massive General Motors layoffs in Flint, Michigan. In it, an autoworker who had been laid off five times in five years describes having a panic attack on the assembly line while awaiting another layoff. This pushes him to go out and leave. He turns on his car stereo to try and calm down and lands on the Beach Boys song “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”. This sends him even further. To show the audience why, director Michael Moore contrasts the song with images of abandoned houses in Flint. The effect is horrifying.
Sad songs say a lot.
If you want music to lift your spirits when you’re feeling down, you’ll do better with something that reflects those sad feelings and stirs up your emotions at the same time. A few obvious examples from the scholars’ playlist are “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, “Over the Rainbow” and “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton. What are the common traits of all these spine-chilling pieces? The researchers write that they tend to be “sader, slower, less intense, and more instrumental” than their less emotionally powerful counterparts. They are also more likely to be acoustic.
This is useful information if you choose music to change your mood. But the playlist itself is a fantastic resource for finding tunes to lift your spirits. The most effective choices are, of course, the most personal ones. Two tracks that particularly work for me are “Claire de Lune” by Claude Debussy, which my late mother adored, and “Sweet Baby James” by James Taylor, of which my best friend once gave me a recording. You can choose the songs that are most likely to mean something to you. Seven hundred and fifteen songs are enough to cover just about any musical taste.
There is a growing audience of Inc.com readers who receive a daily text from me with a micro-challenge or self-care or motivational tip. (Want to sign up? Here’s more information and an invitation to an extended free trial.) Many subscribers are entrepreneurs or business owners, and they tell me how important having the right emotional attitude can make all the difference in how they meet customers, employees, investors and everyone else. So the next time work or life makes you feel down, open the playlist. You are guaranteed to find something that will make you feel better.