What’s Your Song of Joy? (Part 2 of 7 on The World in Six Songs)


Book and Theory Background

Daniel J. Levitin wrote an absolutely brilliant book called The World in Six Songs, supported by a great website with the many music samples referenced, among other great related material.

My basic paraphrasing of the concept is this. All the songs in the world could be fit into at least one of six categories providing an evolutionary benefit to humanity, often ultimately tied to our social nature.

The book and website offer far more detailed interpretations, of course, but I will expand on my paraphrasing with each post and the associated topic.

Daniel J. Levitin and The World in Six SongsIn a series of posts, I will describe each of the six categories in brief, one at a time:

  1. Friendship
  2. Joy
  3. Comfort
  4. Knowledge
  5. Religion
  6. Love

I will describe what the categories are about because they are not as limited in scope as the category names suggest. I will then supply one of my choices and ask all readers to do the same if they so wish. In the seventh post of the series, I will offer the chance to put the song choices all together so readers can read the entire set on one post. I do this because it would be a long post to describe all six categories at once, but to have all the answers in one place might be nice.


This post focuses on Songs of Joy

July 30th add-on in italics, from Dan Levitin in a summary article
Joy songs are associated with celebration, moments that inspire people to sing, jump, dance and shout. It has been shown that singing releases oxytocin (the hormone released during orgasm), and music listening releases serotonin (a mood-regulating neurotransmitter commonly used in antidepressants). The positive effect of singing or listening to music has also been found to have a positive effect on the immune system, which creates an evolutionary advantage.

These songs celebrate something and reward us for actions that benefit our survival so we would do it again to further improved the odds. “Rewards” are in terms of brain chemicals like oxytocin and serotonin, we naturally release when we feel happy or having performed acts which make us happy. Rewards could also come in reductions of chemicals which do not make us happy, like cortisol and prolactin, which may lead to actions the reduce our chances of survival like violence, reduced physical growth, depression, etc. Additional action of celebration benefits us in a wide range of ways, from the seemingly trivial to the more internal and less visible, like:

  • Dancing, stretching, jumping or other natural movements to music which are good for our physical well-being;
  • True emotions, which arise out of benefiting our survival.

In a fascinating argument which I buy into, Daniel Levitin argues that emotions like jealousy are not “true” emotions. Rather, they are “adaptations” to adversity to minimize harm rather than directly benefiting our survival directly. They do not “reward” us in the sense of making us want to repeat actions over and over to benefit our survival. Daniel didn’t say the latter, stating nature does not build systems which defeats itself. However, in trying to keep things simple, that was my conclusion. No doubt, while there are insecure people jealous of everyone else for any number of reasons, most of us would readily admit we could do without jealousy in our lives if we could.

We possess the reward systems of joy today because those of us who enjoyed music of joy, like any of the other categories, were the ones who survived to successfully pass on the genes that allow us to enjoy such music.

As an additional point, Daniel Levitin did not address funny songs in his book. At least I didn’t find anything obvious. One could easily argue that they fall under songs of Friendship because laughing together promotes stronger relationship. I, for one, totally believe that as a major icebreaker to break cultural barriers, to me, is if you can learn to laugh at yourselves and then at each other. But even more, I believe in that anecdote that laughter is the best medicine, and as a result, laughing is good for survival and evolution. So if songs of Joy rewards us for things we should try to do more and more of, songs that makes us laugh should fall here.

Audio sample of songs from the Joy chapter in The World in Six Songs can be found on the website. No direct link was available, but click on the Songs menu option and appropriate page number range link carrying pages 83 to 110. Please note that not all songs are meant as samples of Joy songs. Some are just referenced material in the book text.


Author Daniel Levitin choose


My choice for Song of Joy is

Walking on Sunshine, an 80s tune by Katrina and the Waves (lyrics).

It is a joyful song, for sure, and one that definitely makes me want to get out of my seat and dance. I’m standing over the keyboard dancing right now as I’ve got the YouTube version playing to get the link for it! However, this is by no means a definitive choice for me. I can’t say songs of Joy are among the most prominent songs on my mind. I’ve got tons of them as it makes it easier to become happy that way, but in terms of distinctive favourites, none grabs me enough to say “yeah, that’s the one!”

Now, if you’re talking songs of Joy as in humour, my choice would be Nellie McKay‘s Clonie (partial lyrics). Good songs of humour are rare for me, but this one does the job well. I love a lot of her witty, funny and charming music, which I only discovered recently.


What is your choice for Song of Joy?

Please leave it as a comment.

Lyrics and YouTube/audio link would greatly enhance your answer so readers can know more about your choice. They are not necessary, though, and not possible if no lyrics or version exist.

You can include songs you wrote as a choice, too!

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Reading Level: 11.0


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.