9 Cheerful Songs for an Optimistic Playlist
Music is a magical force in our world. It’s a transformative art form that can elevate our mood and improve our performance in nearly every activity. If you like to exercise, you probably have a running playlist. If you’re a student, you probably have a study playlist. But if you’re in a bad mood, do you have an optimistic playlist?
Because music is so powerful, sharing one’s tastes in music can make us feel vulnerable. Everyone’s a critic these days, and spending too much time online can cause you to develop irony poisoning. But making the decision to explore new sonic perspectives — no matter how basic, silly, or uncool they may appear — can help you see the world in a better light.
Consider adding a few of these cheerful songs to your playlist; you’re likely to find your mood improving as a result!
Kirby - Aesop Rock
Aesop Rock is a legend of underground hip-hop, known for having the largest vocabulary out of the entire genre. His lyrics over 8 solo albums and tons of guest features are dense with impressive wordplay and obscure pop-culture references, often making it difficult to parse his subject matter. But his 2016 album The Impossible Kid is more stripped-down in comparison to his earlier releases, with songs like Kirby that are much easier to understand.
Kirby is Aesop’s pet cat, and his namesake is a synth-heavy rap collecting a loose list of his greatest strengths and most noteworthy accomplishments. These include napping on a toaster, never landing on his feet, and styling his owner’s hair via tongue. This may not sound impressive to a human— but as a kitten, they’re clear indicators that he is destined to become the Greatest Of All Warriors.
It’s an anthem to the artist’s favorite furry companion that’s bound to make any cat person crack a smile.
Mood for a Day - Yes
Prog rock has a reputation for overly indulgent psychedelic ballads, with each 14 minute song having 8 parts and a title as long as a haiku. Essentially, it’s considered the genre of choice for people who enjoy blacklight posters and acid flashbacks. However, Mood For a Day from the Yes album Fragile is a significant departure from this stereotype.
This instrumental song was composed and performed by Steve Howe, the lead guitarist of Yes and Asia. The 1971 album version uses a flamenco guitar, coloring this short piece with a South American flavor. But then it seamlessly transitions into a medieval sound reminiscent of Greensleeves, and then just as gracefully blends in and out of other sensations.
As the name implies, this piece was meant to portray a mood for a particular day— and when you listen to it, it’s apparent that this day was a very nice one. It evokes feelings of passion, whimsy, gentleness, and hope, alternating style and tempo in a way that can only be truly appreciated by an experienced guitarist.
Cash Machine - Shelley FKA DRAM
You know that feeling when you just get paid after working a packed schedule with tons of overtime? What about when your tax refund or stimulus check hits your account? For many of us, it’s a feeling of relief that quickly gives way to a giddiness, as the money immediately starts to burn a hole in your pocket. The sky’s the limit as you eagerly plan to treat yourself to a taste of the good life.
This song from Shelley (formerly known as DRAM) does a perfect job capturing that feeling. With a bright piano sample and a warm singing voice, he gleefully extols the virtues of blowing up and acting like you don’t know anybody.
You might not think money can buy happiness, but it can definitely come close. Just listen to what DRAM’s cash machine has to say and find out for yourself.
Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song) - Billy Joel
They say if you’re the most successful person in a room, it’s time for you to find a different room. That’s kind of what this song is about— moving out instead of moving up. In this case, however, it’s also a song about evaluating the worth of your dreams. Are you really working towards your ideal goals, or are you just doing what everyone around you thinks you should?
If you only know Billy Joel for his piano ballads and doo-wop, this song might surprise you with its intensity. The heaviness of the guitar track feels more in line with a metal song (which might explain why this song mashes up perfectly with Avenged Sevenfold), but the combination of sax, piano, and Piano Man pull it all together into something greater than the sum of its parts.
Listening to this song is a great way to psych yourself up if you’re ready to make a big change in your life.
Wedding Song - Anais Mitchell & Justin Vernon
The Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice isn’t a happy one, and this folk opera retelling by Anais Mitchell isn’t very happy either. But even with times being what they are — hard and getting harder all the time — the way this first song sets up the relationship between a musician and his muse is extremely optimistic.
There are a few different versions of this song, including one performed by the cast of the Broadway musical. However, the original album version from 2010 is my favorite because of Justin Vernon, the frontman of Bon Iver. His incredible vocal range is used brilliantly to create a layered harmony that delivers an otherworldly beauty. It’s the perfect fit to portray a voice so beautiful that it could only come from a demigod.
Lie in Our Graves - Dave Matthews Band
For most people, one DMB song sounds virtually indistinguishable from another. Much like the entire prog rock genre, this group is stigmatized as a dad-rock jam band mostly listened to by people who smell like patchouli and flat beer. But there’s a true artistry behind this ensemble group that’s difficult to put into words. If you’re only curious enough to listen to one of their songs, Lie In Our Graves is a great choice.
There’s not much to the lyrics of this song; it’s mostly vague musings on wanting a fulfilling life free from regrets. Like many of the band’s tracks, it serves mainly as a setup for a long improvisational jam session, which kicks in after just two short verses.
Whether you listen to the 1996 album version or one of many available live recordings, the bridge of this song is fluid, formless, and nearly transcendent— a perfect metaphor for “stepping into the light.” And when the vocals come back and the band returns to its original tempo, it leaves you feeling grounded and optimistic about the future and everything it holds.
The Trapeze Swinger - Iron and Wine
Death is coming for us all.
Sorry if that frightens you, but it’s true. There’s no getting around it— so what’s the point in worrying about it? Death doesn’t care if you’re afraid of it, or mad at it, or determined to avoid it. Because of this, one of the healthiest ways to think about death is with open-minded acceptance.
Whether you believe in an afterlife, reincarnation, or oblivion, one thing everyone wants is for people to remember them when they’re gone. This song by Sam Bean, also known as Iron & Wine, is a meditative and affectionate look at life on the verge of death. It fills you with an overwhelming sense of calm and encourages you to look at life a little less seriously— not as a rat race, but a circus full of clowns and trapeze swingers.
i - Kendrick Lamar
Have you ever felt like you needed permission to be happy? With so many problems in the world — and so many people trying to remind you of them constantly — it can start to make you feel guilty for even cracking a smile. That’s what this single from Kendrick Lamar is about. The lyrics of this catchy song describe his journey to accept flaws, gain self-confidence, and avoid succumbing to depression.
Living isn’t always easy or fun. But despite all the problems, there’s still potential for spontaneous joy, as the music video for this song demonstrates. For Kendrick, the secret to discovering this joy is to love yourself first. Then you can start to accept your surroundings and the world at large for how it is, and learn to love it too.
Squad Goals - Prof
Let me preface this by saying that Prof is an acquired taste. If you’re not enjoying this song the first time you hear it, just put it on repeat for a while — maybe while you sleep — and you’ll eventually get the idea. There’s no deeper meaning to be found in the lyrics for this song; it’s just a celebration of being successful and horny.
Don’t think about this one too hard. Just listen to it over and over again, like I do, and never stop. I got guns, hoes, money, dro, cars, boats… you name it.