Actress Lupita Nyong’o recently opened up about how Taylor Swift’s uplifting song “Shake It Off” got her through a rough career patch.

“I was going through a hard time professionally, and I was just in a funk,” she said at the Sundance Film Festival after a showing of her comedy, Little Monsters. “I was working abroad, and my best friend came to cheer me up. He played ‘Shake It Off’ on his phone, and we just had a dance party in my bedroom.” Nyong’o even said she secured the rights to the lively song by writing to Swift about that personal anecdote — and now it’s featured in her film.

The actress is onto something. Science has proven the power of music to boost our brain function, productivity, and mood. So we asked the Thrive Global community to share the songs that instantly lift them out of a funk, and the resulting list is as diverse as it is delightful. Which of these songs will you add to your playlist?

‘I Am What I Am’ by Gloria Gaynor

“When I’m feeling low or fed up, I always play this. With all the noise and pressure to conform to certain expectations in business and online, this song helps. If I’m feeling judged, this song is a brilliant reminder to be comfortable with who I am, and restores my faith in myself so that I can do things my way.”

—Emma Langton, mindset coach, York, UK

‘I Can See Clearly Now’ by Johnny Nash

“I’ve always believed that everyone should prepare an emotional toolbox. Life can be difficult at times. But if you have the right tools in place, you can deal with anything. A plumber would never show up to a job without their tools. So why would a human try to navigate life without the right equipment? One of the most powerful life tools to include is a classic, uplifting song. For me, ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ by Johnny Nash has always gotten the job done. It’s the instant quick fix that turns any funk into good feelings”

—Heidi Allen, author, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

‘What a Wonderful World’ by Louis Armstrong

“I love this classic jazz song. It reminds us that there’s plenty of good news happening in our world, despite the bad news that often fills the headlines. There’s always something inspirational to appreciate and learn from in our world if we intentionally seek wonder.”

—Whitney Hopler, communications director, Fairfax, VA

‘Celebration’ by Kool and the Gang

“Without a doubt, this has been my pick-me-up song since I was a teenager. It still makes me happy today. The other tune that speaks to my heart, gives me confidence, and feels like an anthem for my life is ‘Man in the Mirror’ by Michael Jackson. I loved the 80s!”

—Paula Morand, author and leadership expert, Ontario, Canada  

‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ by U2

“Without fail, U2’s music has been a guiding force for me throughout my life. This was the song that helped me get through my dad’s long battle and subsequent passing with cancer. The melodic journey the song takes you on is both reflective and inspiring. It allowed me to remember his greatness and love, and then pick myself up, dust myself off, remember what he would want from me, and spring back to action.”

—Joshua Miller, author and executive coach, San Francisco, CA

‘The Horses’ by Daryl Braithwaite

“I’ve lived in many cities over the years: Los Angeles, Singapore, San Francisco, and now, New York. As anyone who lives abroad knows, this comes with moments of homesickness. Sometimes, I wish I was back at home with my loved ones in Sydney, Australia. So the one song I can always turn to that makes me feel connected and always puts a smile on my face is the old classic: Daryl Braithwaite’s ‘The Horses.’ It’s even better turned up full-volume, singing it with him!”  

—Amba Brown, positive psychology author, New York, NY

‘Unwritten’ by Natasha Bedingfield

“My girlfriends and I were obsessed with the song growing up. It was our sleepover anthem! It still makes me happy every time I listen.”

—Rebecca Muller, assistant editor, New York, NY

“Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey

“It’s such a therapeutic song for me. I love belting out the lyrics and releasing the stress or worry from the day. As a business strategist, speaker, and writer, I have to be ‘on’ when serving others, but this song keeps me smiling, working hard, and happy!”

—Lisa Pezik, business strategist and content expert, Ontario, Canada

Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ by Michael Jackson

“This song absolutely gets me out of a funk. Music of that genre heavily influenced me while growing up in the 70s and 80s. This one does it every time — I just start dancing, no matter where I am!”

—Bridget Trusty, professional life coach, Blauvelt, NY

‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’ by Justin Timberlake

“This song that puts me into a better mood or headspace immediately.”

—Connie Mester, chief strategy officer, Raleigh, NC

‘Alexithymia’ by Anberlin

“This song resonates with me for a few reasons. First, the perspective is coming from an honest place, one of hurting and disappointment. However, in the pain, there’s a sense of hope and a longing for something more than what’s right in front of us.  The lyrics that stand out most are, ‘With downcast eyes/There’s more to living than being alive.’ This song helps me remember that so much of what I see, though downcast, is temporary, and my steadfast hope is to live life to the fullest. There’s more to living than just being alive.”

—Josh Neuer, licensed professional counselor, Greenville, SC

‘You Gotta Be’ by Des’ree

“I love it. I first heard it in my babysitter’s car as she was driving me to school. I was in First Grade and felt terrified of being on my own in school. This song helped me get through the day and empowered me to be brave. I still turn this song on when life gets overwhelming and obstacles seem insurmountable at nearly 30 years old.”

—Megan Garheart, corporate recruiter, Baltimore, MD

‘Africa’ by Toto
“‘I bless the rain’ is my mantra in life. No matter what kind of horrible funk I’m in, this song always boosts my mood. I was trudging through deep mental mud in 2016 when my friend showed me the music video Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell made when they went to Africa. I had heard the song before, but thought it was horrible. But as the first chorus came around and Dax and Kristen were dancing in the rain, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the song. Ever since that Tuesday afternoon, ‘Africa’ has been my song. On days when my anxiety is high or my mind won’t stop racing, I drive with my windows down, belting out the words. Each time the tune fades, I realize how loudly I’d been singing, then my smile grows and my stress is gone.”

—Sammi Sontag, Thrive Global Campus Editor-at-Large from the University of Florida, Gainesville, FL

‘Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now’ by McFadden and Whitehead

“This song always gets me out of a funk and makes me feel so powerful! The lyrics get you ‘on the move’ and in ‘the groove.’ It’s a song that’s honest in saying, ‘There have been so many things that’s held us down/But now it looks like things are finally comin’ around.’ This adds such hope! As an entrepreneur, it’s essential to have tools that inspire you and lift you up. Music is an amazing way to do this, and dancing to it can totally make you feel more excited and positive. The other lyrics that lift me up are: ‘But we won’t let nothin’ hold us back/We’re putting ourselves together/We’re polishing up our act!/I know you’ll refuse to be held down anymore!/Don’t you let nothing, nothing/Stand in your way!’ Don’t you feel better already?”

—Lorie Gardner, health and wellness coach, Chatham, NJ

‘Roar’ by Katy Perry

“It has gotten me out of countless funks. Whenever I need a reminder that I’m a fierce, unstoppable force, I blare the words of Katy Perry and my car turns into the roaring champion mobile!”

—Carrie McEachran, executive director, Mooretown, CA

‘I Will Be’ by Tanya Leah and Bob Farrell, recorded by Wynonna Judd.

“I turn to certain songs when I’m at the end of my rope and just need to tie a knot and hold on. I look for words that inspire, encourage, and leave me better off than where I started. This is one of my go-to songs for that. I love that it’s about being a work in progress: ‘I’m not there yet, but I will be.’”
—Ilene Angel, author, New York, NY

‘Feel’ by Robbie Williams

“This song deeply touches me — it’s melancholy, but strong. Also, songs from Café del Mar Ibiza, specifically Volume 2, ‘Silent Poets – Moment Scale,’ relax my body and soul. And ‘The Power’ by Snap! is still the best motivational song after many years.”

—Ronny R., diving professional and business consultant, Bremen, Germany

‘Girl On Fire’ by Alicia Keys

“I play it as I’m heading into work or the gym. I really do feel ‘fired up’ as I’m listening to the song and it really motivates me to get me through the day or workout ahead.”

—Gina Morrison, HR manager, Dallas, TX

‘Scarlet Begonias’ by the Grateful Dead

“I’m an unrepentant Deadhead. I saw my first Grateful Dead show on October 15th, 1983, at the tender age of 16, and I’m still going to the current iteration of the band (John Mayer is doing a good job filling the un-fillable shoes of Jerry Garcia in Dead and Company). The first time I heard the song ‘Scarlet Begonias,’ it lit up my spirit, and has been doing that ever since. Here’s a key lyric: ‘Once in a while you get shown the light/In the strangest of places if you look at it right.’ Gets me every time.”

—Tommy Rosen, addiction recovery expert, Los Angeles, CA

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  • Marina Khidekel

    Chief Content Officer at Thrive

    Marina leads strategy, ideation and execution of Thrive's content company-wide, including cross-platform brand partnership and content marketing campaigns, curricula, and the voice of the Thrive platform. She's the author of Thrive's first book, Your Time to Thrive. In her role, Marina brings Thrive's audience actionable, science-backed tips for reducing stress and improving their physical and mental well-being, and shares those insights on panels and in national outlets like NBC's TODAY. Previously, Marina held senior editorial roles at Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, and Glamour, where she edited award-winning health and mental health features and spearheaded the campaigns and partnerships around them.