How the ‘Happy’ song proves good for your brain

How the ‘Happy’ song proves good for your brain

Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do

“Happy” is being called the song of the summer. Released in November 2013, it exploded oversees in some 24 countries, appealing to people of every color and every age, said singer-songwriter, Pharrell William, in a recent CBS Sunday Morning interview.


But, how and why is this simple song resonating with so many across the globe, becoming universally loved and sparking everyone to dance to the beat? Could it be that happiness is the one common thread that weaves us all together and something we all desire?

According to some researchers who have studied the tune’s anatomy and its ability to trigger a nearly uncontrollable need to tap one’s foot, bob the head, move to the rhythm or sing out loud, the answers may be hidden in the lyrics and the beat.

In July of this year, NPR Health shared that one neuroscientist at Aarhus University in Denmark published a study showing that danceable grooves have just the right amount of gaps or breaks in the beats. Your brain wants to fill in those gaps with body movement, says the study’s lead author, Maria Witek, in a statement.

“I think the recent single by Pharrell, ‘Happy,’ is a very good example. The song is layered with predictable beats and complex, syncopated ones. The drums, the piano, the clapping and even Pharrell’s voice create inviting gaps,” Witek said.

One expert says that something about the collective nature of this “Happy” phenomenon (with all of the videos and social medial feedback) seems to make people want to join in and feel connected in happiness to others and/or to show others how they express happiness, too (because people are paying attention).

“Group expression of joy like this may be something regularly seen in church with a gospel choir, but the release of a pop song that capitalizes on some of that same melodic magic, far more accessible to many more people, seems to join us together in the same way and gives people permission to let loose,” says Dr. Gabrielle Roberts, a clinical psychologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, Ill.

“The message of being happy is something that people can widely connect with—or wish to connect with. We see a lot of negative things on the news and in our daily lives and we probably dedicate too little of our busy days to celebrating life and being joyous,” she adds.

One expert of mind and music says the single has an upbeat type of tempo, so it distinguishes itself from those lugubrious and sad-sounding pieces.

“Upbeat music tends to convey high energy, and one form of high energy is happiness,” said Eric Clarke, Oxford Heather Professor of Music, in an online article.

“People like to be happy, and Pharrell made it easy and ‘cool’ for us to take a break from the grind and get in touch with that emotion. It hasn’t necessarily been ‘in’ to dance down the street, expressing joy; Pharrell made it ‘cool’ to be happy,” Roberts says.

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  1. My brain must be thrilled — this song has been an earworm for me for the past few weeks!

  2. I love this song! It works magic when I’m down. Can’t stop dancing when I hear it, even though all of my joints ache.

    Minnie E.

  3. This song absolutely makes me want to bounce, dance, move. It always puts an immediate smile on my face. And it can always get me out of a dark mood or tired spell midday. Thank you, Pharrell Williams! BTW, swing dancers, take note: you can totally swing to this one — it’s made for Lindy-Charleston. What a wonderful way to burn calories!

  4. I just LOVE this song! It is a true earworm, (thank you Eric), but it’s such a great earworm, I don’t care! At this point in my life, happiness can be elusive, but not when I hear this tune! I just LOVE iT!

About the Author

health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.