Listen to These Uplifting Songs to Stay Optimistic and Positive Right Now

In challenging times, music can hold the power to trigger joy, spark nostalgia, and even relieve stress and anxiety.

Josep Suria/ Shutterstock
Josep Suria/ Shutterstock

The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” streams through the speakers at Montefiore Nyack Hospital whenever a Covid-19 patient gets discharged, the New York Times recently reported. At other local hospitals, Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind” serves as the celebratory track. Researchers have found many benefits of turning to music to reduce stress, boost our mood, and help us increase our resilience, so it comes as no surprise that so many people are turning to music during this emotional time. 

We asked our Thrive community to share their go-to songs that they’ve been playing during these challenging times to keep spirits high. Which of these will you listen to today?

“What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong

“This song always grounds me and reinforces how much we have to be grateful for. And there’s also something to look forward to in the lyrics, when he sings, ‘Friends shaking hands, saying how do you do, they’re really saying I love you.’”

—Ashwin Krishnan, podcaster, Cupertino, CA

“Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake

“This is our family’s go-to song right now. No matter what’s going on during the day for us, we always congregate in the kitchen while making dinner and break out into spontaneous dance parties. We first loved this song for the infectious lyrics and music, and its connection to the Trolls movie. However, it is the original video that brings tears to my eyes now, which shows ordinary people in ordinary places dancing unabashedly, and then coming together at the end. It is the beauty and joy of humanity captured in four minutes that brings an instant lift to my day.”

—Tara Bethell, founder and CEO, AZ

“Original” by Sia

“This song is playing as I write this and is on constant repeat, keeping me uplifted and inspired. I love that this song is such a beautiful melody that I can dance around in my apartment to or repeat on my runs. The song acts as a reminder to keep moving forward in my passions, self-worth, and the work I love.”

—Laura Sawyier, personal stylist and consultant, St. Louis, MO

“Bolero” by Ravel

“I listen to this song to help me stay optimistic. It has the rhythm that instantly puts my mind and feelings in a peaceful place. It’s a mood-setter.”

—Leo Estopare, Wichita, KS

“Old Church Choir” by Zach Williams

“This is the perfect song to lift your spirits when life is starting to get to you. I can’t help but smile when I listen. It usually starts with a head nod, then a shoulder shake, then a wide grin. By the middle of the song, I’m singing at the top of my lungs, with my hands in the air. Even my kids get into it. This song simply fills you with joy! There’s something so powerful about the right beat accompanied by lyrics that remind us how we control our own joy.”

—Chrissie Kenaston, copywriter, Navarre, FL

“My Way” by Frank Sinatra 

“This song encourages every one of us to live our lives according to our own blueprint. In this new world, the words are even more resonant, as business models and lives are being upended. The importance of staying true to who you are and how you go about defining yourself is more important than ever. The lyrics also offer a pathway to reinvention by acknowledging that while you may bite off more than you can chew, do so anyway, spit it out, and you will grow taller. It’s wise advice that we all need to hear right now.”

—Ashwin Krishnan, podcaster, Cupertino, CA

“Lovely Day” by Bill Withers

“I grew up listening to Bill Withers’ music in the Philippines and have always found his songs incredibly uplifting. This song has been my go-to track during this pandemic. It’s impossible for me not to smile when I hear his songs, as they make me forget about any worries and bring back wonderful memories of my childhood in tropical and sunny Manila with my family. Withers recently passed away at the age of 81, and I was saddened to read the news. There is no doubt that his voice and music will live on for generations. His songs give us hope, and he makes me feel more optimistic about life and about the future in general.”

—Christine Amour-Levar, philanthropist, Singapore

“Let It Be” by The Beatles

“This is my go-to track whenever I feel stressed during this time of uncertainty. There is something incredibly soothing about the message that there will be an answer, but it doesn’t have to come to us right now. It’s comforting to hear that not knowing — and not frantically searching for answers that aren’t there — is OK. As we wait for answers about what our future holds, we can relax and rest in whatever ways are meaningful to us. And, of course, Paul McCartney’s beautiful voice makes it all the more grounding.”

—Deirdre Maloney, organizational trainer and facilitator, San Diego, CA

“Sing a Song” by Earth, Wind & Fire 

“This is my go-to song whenever I need to lift my spirits. As soon as I hear the first five seconds of the song, my mood changes to pure joy and happiness. It happens every single time!”

—Time Stapleton, Detroit, MI

“Open Your Eyes” by Daybreaker 

“I dance to this song every morning when I wake up. It has such a positive message and reminds me of when I danced to it with over 14,000 other people during Oprah’s Wellness Tour in San Francisco. Remembering how amazing it felt to create collective joy together in the pre-COVID-19 days brings a smile to my face. It doesn’t make me sad, but rather makes the experience even more sacred in my mind. The lyrics say, ‘Every morning you wake up, and you have a choice, you can choose to be happy or you can choose to be miserable. Today, we choose to be happy.’ It helps me get into that mindset.”

—Lisa Abramson, executive coach and mindfulness teacher, San Francisco, CA

“Everyday Life” by Coldplay

“My optimism booster is Coldplay’s recent masterpiece. My favorite part is the meaning behind the song. I love the direct speech of an African man at the beginning singing, ‘Ubuntu is a Xhosa language word. It means ‘humanity.’ It reminds me that we always need the next person. One hand washes the other. One hand does need the other hand to be clean. That is Ubuntu: to help others, even if you don’t know them personally.”

—Alla Adam, life coach, Chicago, IL

“Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield

“My girlfriends and I were obsessed with this song growing up. It was our sleepover anthem! It still makes me happy every time I listen. Especially during this time, it never fails to bring a smile to my face.”

—Rebecca Muller, community editor, New York, NY

“Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina & the Waves 

“This is an instant mood-booster for me. It’s an unbeatable classic that never ceases to remind me that there are brighter days ahead. It’s also a great song to dance to and sing out loud!”

—Alyssa Swantkoski, executive assistant, Denver, CO 

“Good as Hell” by Lizzo

“Every Friday morning since the beginning of February, when COVID-19 cases started to emerge and sheltering in place became ‘a thing,’ I have been starting my day by playing this song. The moment the song begins, I leap from bed in my pajamas, and my family and I break into an impromptu dance party with our own version of ‘Club Quarantine.’ The rules of the dance party are there are no rules. It’s an ‘anything goes’ Battle Royale of unrehearsed twists, uncontrolled twirls, and ultimate fun. It might be hard to believe, but this same song helped us relieve anxiety at the beginning of March when a deadly tornado hit our neighborhood in Davidson County. We were forced to vacate our home due to wind damage and power outage. The moment we checked into the hotel, we put down our bags, turned on Lizzo, and literally danced the storm away.”

—Terrell Strayhorn, college professor and entrepreneur, Nashville, TN 

“Rainbow” by Kacey Musgraves

“Without question, this is my go-to song during this time. I love the lyrics, ‘Hold tight to your umbrella, cause darlin’ I’m just tryin’ to tell you, that there’s always been a rainbow hanging over your head.’ It’s such a great song to hear during this time when there’s so much uncertainty.”

—Nicki Anderson, director of women’s leadership at Benedictine University, Lisle, IL

“Rise Up” by Andra Day 

“This song never fails to shift my mindset and help me stay optimistic. If I find myself dipping into a negative thought pattern, I scream, ‘Alexa, play “Rise Up” on repeat!’ And within seconds, I am lifted up. I once cooked and baked over the course of an entire night to this anthem of love and positivity. You can bet the food was infused with that extra bit of invisible goodness!”’

—Bridget Fonger, author and podcaster, Los Angeles, CA

“In Dreams” by Jai Jagadeesh

“I play this song whenever I feel like I need some extra love and support. The lyrics and tone make me feel like I’m a baby that’s being gently rocked back to wellness. The chorus says, ‘You are the light of the world… Go out, spread light to the world. Know that it’s alright to be afraid. Know that you are loved. Rest in peace.’  Right now, I think we all need to hear that message on repeat! I use it as a way to ground and center myself, and I am sure it has that impact on thousands of others!”

—MaryBeth Hyland, culture consultant, Baltimore, MD 

“Light Of A Clear Blue Morning” by Dolly Parton

“I’ve been keeping Dolly Parton’s RCA Greatest Hits on heavy rotation, as all her songs keep my spirit buoyant, but ‘Light Of A Clear Blue Morning’ is especially poignant right now!” 

—Carrie Ann Alford, entrepreneur, Richmond, VA

“Beautiful Day” by U2

“This is my go-to optimistic song. My alarm clock woke me up to this song every day for almost a year — except for one. On September 11, 2001, I woke up to frantic phone calls and destruction, terror, and fear. The second plane crashed into the south tower right before my alarm clock and ‘Beautiful Day’ sounded. It was the first time I had actually listened to the song’s meaning about strife and loss, but seeing all the beautiful and positive things in spite of that. Amidst the uncertainty and fear, I felt gratitude and hope — I knew that people would always bond together and rise above difficult times. This song could not be more applicable then as it is today as we all struggle and work together against COVID-19 and its effects.”

—Alisha C. Taylor, engineering program manager and life coach, Greenville, SC

“Bounce Back” by Big Sean

“My go-to song during this time is ‘Bounce Back’ by Big Sean. One line that resonates with me is, ‘You know how to bounce back.’  As an entrepreneur, you need to find a way to change up your business during this time and be resilient. This song helps my mindset each morning.”

—Jennifer Lynn Robinson, Esq., speaker, Philadelphia, PA 

The Weight” by Robbie Robertson and Ringo Starr

“I’ve been listening to and sharing a version of ‘The Weight’ that Robbie Robertson played with Ringo Starr and other musicians across five continents.  It was profiled in Rolling Stone in September 2019, and it is one of the most inspirational, collaborative and uplifting videos I have ever seen.  It illustrates how people with different backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs can come together to share their talents and create something beautiful. It brings me pure joy.”

—Amy Conway-Hatcher, attorney, mom, and author, Washington, DC

“O-o-h Child” by The Five Stairsteps 

“This is my go-to song that helps me stay optimistic. The lyrics include the lines, ‘O-o-h child, things are gonna get easier. O-o-h child things will get brighter. . . . Some day, we’ll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun. Someday when the world is much brighter.’ I use it as my 20-second hand washing song, too!”

—Mary A. Hermann, Ph.D., professor and licensed professional counselor, Richmond, VA

Fresh Start” by Joan Jett

“This song has set up camp in a corner of my brain. The energy of the song drives the pace of my work. It may mean even more once the whole world is getting a fresh start. Most of all, it reminds me of the singer’s personal strength, vision, and uncompromising devotion to her art. That spirit — set to raw drums and guitar — is sonic proof that every day is another chance to get it right and make it better; hope is real and hard work can still pay off.”

—Jonathan Young, marketing, Atlanta, GA

Do you have a go-to song that’s lifting your spirits right now? Share it with us in the comments!

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