Science explains why feel-good tunes can move us to tears.
It can happen almost without warning. You’re listening to the radio or your favorite playlist when “that” song comes on—the one that makes you cry every time. And it’s not even a sad song.
You can try to fight it, but it isn’t long until you feel the chills down your spine or the goosebumps on your arms. Before you know it, you’re choking back tears and wiping them from your cheeks.
It’s understandable when sad songs bring us to tears, but it’s harder to understand why happy ones can do the same. However, scientists will tell you it’s a good, healthy thing, and that those tears are cathartic and healing.
The goosebumps and chills? They’re courtesy of your brain reacting to the music and releasing dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control our reward and pleasure centers. And those seemingly incongruent tears are a response to being moved by the music and a way of helping you balance feelings of intense emotion.
So now that you know what causes it, here is my list of seven songs that make me feel joyful and elated, while bringing tears at the same time. I’m curious what songs would be on your list. Comment below and share your sentimental favorites.
1. “You’re Gonna Miss This,” by Trace Adkins.
You don’t have to be a parent to appreciate the sweet sentiment of this song. It’s a powerful reminder that every moment we share with someone else is precious and fleeting, so we should appreciate the small things—even if that someone else happens to be bugging the heck out of you at the moment.
2. “You Raise Me Up,” by Josh Groban.
We all have someone who has been there for us during our darkest night, and they’ll invariably come to mind the moment this song starts playing. Gratitude and appreciation are just some of the emotions that are shaken and stirred by this flawless tune—a reminder that none of us walks this earth alone.
3. “Live Like You Were Dying,” by Tim McGraw.
Few things put life in perspective quite as clearly as the prospect of death. This song celebrates the message of living fully and enjoying the moment instead of worrying about what’s to come.
4. “Home,” by Phillip Phillips.
Home isn’t always a physical destination; sometimes it’s the hand you hold or just a warm hug. This song delivers that reminder with comfort and encouragement—and a catchy chorus to boot!
5. “100 Years,” by Five for Fighting.
This song is so powerful that it can make you nostalgic for times that haven’t even happened yet. As it walks through the years of a life, it gives a nod to the moments that have already passed and gently reminds you to appreciate where you are – and what’s to come.
6. “Blessed,” by Martina McBride.
If you’re ever having trouble counting your blessings, this song will help you remember just how much you’ve been given. It’s the simple, intangible things that mean the most, and this song is a beautiful way to remember that there is always something to be thankful for.
7. “I Hope You Dance,” by Lee Ann Womack.
This Grammy-winning song has become a favorite because it sends such a sweet, life-affirming message. It perfectly expresses how it feels to want the best for someone else, hoping they can sidestep life’s storms long enough to dance in the rain. No matter who you think about when you hear this tune, chances are it’s accompanied by waterworks.
Listen to our Podcast: How to Create a Gratitude Playlist, With Paula Felps
Read more: The Joy of Being Dolly Parton
Paula Felps is the Science Editor for Live Happy magazine.