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How to Design a Music Playlist for Ultimate Happiness

It’s hard to describe just how powerful music is when it comes to inspiring feelings! From lullabies to wedding songs and road trips to kitchen dance parties, there’s nothing like a good song or playlist to set the mood.

And don’t even get me started on how important music is in movies. (Don’t believe me? Just watch this music-less scene from Star Wars, and you’ll see what I mean.)

It’s no wonder, then, that creating a happiness playlist (or “hype tracks” as one of my friends likes to call them) could be a great way to give yourself a mood boost whenever you need it. Music therapy has, in fact, been shown to potentially reduce mental health problems like anxiety and depression, and improve mood, self-esteem, and quality of life.

But how do you go about finding just the right songs for your ultimate happiness playlist?

Sure, you could just start with one favorite track, go to that track’s radio station, hit “shuffle,” and call it good. But then you’ve put your happiness soundtrack at the mercy of an algorithm, and when was the last time an algorithm made you truly happy? (I’ll wait.)

No, we believe that everything can be made better when it is deliberately designed—from big things like your life to little things like, well, your happiness playlist. 

In that spirit, we’ve come up with some simple steps that will help you design a music playlist for ultimate happiness. 

Identify the way you want to feel when listening to your playlist.

As always, we start with the end in mind when designing. The “end,” in this case, is the feeling you have when listening to your completed playlist. Do you want to feel peaceful and content, or energized and empowered? Do you want to feel pleasantly nostalgic, or creatively inspired? Nailing down the exact feeling you’re going for will help direct your song selection and shape your playlist.

Write words you associate with those feelings.

At this stage in the design process, inspiration is the name of the game. With your end “feeling” goal in mind, make a list of words that connect you to those feelings. Brainstorm with an open mind—you never know what is going to come to you.

Tip: Make sure the words you choose actually resonate with you. Don’t choose them because you think they “should” inspire a feeling. For example, while some people might think of “snow” as a word they associate with “peaceful” feelings, the thought of snow doesn’t make me feel peaceful at all. (Cold and wet, maybe, but not peaceful.)

List artists, sounds, and music styles you associate with those feelings.

Keep the brainstorming going by listing out artists/groups, music genres, or even specific instruments or sounds that you associate with the feeling you’re going for. This will help you get even more specific about what the tone of your playlist is going to be. It could also inspire a starting place for the next step.

Choose 3-4 songs to get your playlist started.

Chances are, the brainstorming work you’ve already done has brought to mind at least a couple specific songs that are a perfect fit for your happiness playlist. So start there! Choose 3-4 songs that fit your criteria and create the feeling you want to feel. As you add to your playlist, listen to these founding songs to help keep you on track (pun intended).

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Explore suggested/related songs and artists.

Your playlist doesn’t have to be built entirely from songs you already know. In fact, building a playlist can be a great way to help you branch out and discover new music. 

Many streaming services have features that help you discover new music you might like. Since our favorite streaming service is Spotify, we’ll highlight some of theirs.

  • Radio: You can start a “radio” station based on any song on Spotify. This station recommends songs that you might like based on the initial song. The recommendations are usually within the same genre or by similar artists.
  • Your most-listened-to content: Spotify tracks your listening and can tell you what you listen to most. This data might help you when you get stuck, maybe reminding you of a favorite song you almost forgot to add.
  • Personalized suggestions: Using that data, Spotify actually creates playlists of tracks they think you’ll enjoy. In my Spotify account, they show up as my “Discover Weekly” playlist and my “Release Radar” playlists, which help me stay on top of new releases and find new favorites. Spotify also lists “Top recommendations for you” and “New releases for you.” Basically, there’s no shortage of new musical content for you to discover.
  • “Mood” based lists: Your happiness playlist (the one you’re creating) is going to be the ultimate, personalized playlist that only includes tracks you love. That said, Spotify features mood-based playlists that might help you zero in on the feeling you’re trying to create. A quick glance at some of these playlists on my account show playlist titles like “Cleaning Kit,” “Have a Great Day!” and “Confidence Boost.”

Use features like these to help you fill out the rest of your playlist. Remember: as long as a song helps you get to that end feeling you want, it at least deserves consideration for a coveted spot on your playlist.

Get a second opinion.

Ask someone who knows you well if they know of any songs that might fit your playlist. Sometimes, a set of fresh eyes (or ears) will help you discover things you wouldn’t have found on your own.

Share playlists on Spotify easily via messaging, or through Facebook or Instagram. You can also open the playlist for collaboration, allowing your friends to directly add tracks to the playlist themselves.

Edit your playlist as you go.

We’re firm believers in prototyping around here. That’s why we think you shouldn’t see your happiness playlist as something that’s written in stone. Rather, it’s something that can be changed as needed. If you listen to a song on your playlist that doesn’t end up inspiring the right feeling, take it off. If you hear a new song that you think would be a good fit, add it on. Play with the arrangement of the songs to give yourself variety. Start a new playlist for a new feeling if your current one isn’t quite what you need anymore.

Bottom line: the playlist exists to serve you. Make it what you need it to be.

A happiness playlist can get you going, lift your spirits, create a positive atmosphere, get your creative juices flowing, or really, do just about anything you need it to. As long as you’ve taken the time to design your music playlist for ultimate happiness, keeping the target feeling in mind, the end result should serve you and your earbuds for years to come.

Here are some of my Spotify playlists (you can follow me here):

  • Carlsbad – I’ve always loved the sounds of the ocean mixed with the rhythm of crashing waves on the rocks, the calming and ambient peacefulness it provides, the clarifying effect of the sound in my mind, I selected tracks that feel like that.
  • Go – I wanted a list of songs I draw positive energy and inspiration/motivation from, I like electronic dance music and love British dance chart artists like Pet Shop Boys, and you’ll see that reflected.
  • November 2019 Mix – I sometimes capture all the songs that speak to me in a certain season or month, like a musical journal of feelings and ideas that I want to explore and remember.

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