The Life Affirming Song List

Today, like most every day, is having its share of heartbreak and discouragement.  So much of what we care about in life is beyond our immediate control, and when we do care deeply about things, their failure to work out smoothly can lead to especially poignant pangs.  If we insist on concentrating on the sour tastes, they can come to dominate our palate. 

Yes, life is frequently full of bitter sorrows.  There’s no way around it, and we live with the sure knowledge that our problems won’t magically disappear anytime soon, and that there’s plenty more grief in the future.  On top of all that, there’s always a steady, whispering feeling in the back of your mind that no matter what…everything will be all right.  I’ve felt like that a lot this year, and on that note (get it?), here are 15 songs that help remind me that despite the large measure of sadness dished out to each of us (not after the sadness or without it, but despite it), life is sweet. 

Steven Spielberg once joked in an interview about E.T. that he was “a nice Jewish boy who keeps making movies about the Resurrection.”  I’d modify that slightly.  His movies, like most of the really popular adventure, romance, and science fiction movies–and the most moving songs–aren’t about Resurrection so much as they’re about Restoration–not rising from the dead so much as rebuilding something beautiful that had been broken or lost.  You see that in Spielberg’s movies (think Hook), and you see it in most of these songs. 

Guaranteed to make you feel good, and alphabetical by artist, here they are:

The Beatles, “Here Comes the Sun”


A sweet, simple little song about a personal Restoration, to the metaphor of seasons changing.


Beethoven, “Ode to Joy”

I love this clip of Leonard Bernstein introducing this piece, describing his passion for its majesty, and then the early strains of the work from the background emerge in all of their awe-inspiring glory.


Garth Brooks, “Standing Outside the Fire”

At first I was going to include “The Dance,” (as Shakespeare wrote, “Sweet are the uses of adversity”), but I realized that, when presented with a choice, even better than a song about finding sublime dignity in looking back on melancholy times, is a song about taking life head on in the face of fear and making it your own in the here and now. 


Christopher Cross, “Sailing”

I can listen to this song a dozen times in a row, and it never bores me.  I can hear it for the first time in ten years, and it’s immediately familiar and relaxing.


Jimmy Cliff, “I Can See Clearly Now”

Another Restoration song, also to images of night and darkness yielding to light and day, a joyous emergence from cold to warmth. 


Enigma, “Return to Innocence”

Here, the Restoration is to a state of childlike innocence, a baptism of wonder, of a fresh start and new chances, achieved by reverting to a more pure form from earlier in life. 


Enya, “Book of Days”

This rousing track inspires us to reach out and seize the day, one day at a time.  It’s a Celtic Rocky.


Jimmy Eat World, “The Middle”

When this song was on the airwaves earlier this decade, a friend remarked to me how different it was from all other youth music we were exposed to at work; this song was unabashedly positive


Dougie MaClean, “Feel So Near”

This Scottish folk singer’s songs never fail to connect me to my roots, and this is among his best.  A reverent celebration of the natural world, he revels in the feeling of just being out in it. 


Newsboys, “He Reigns”

I don’t listen to a lot of Christian music, but this song makes me want to hear more.  An unbelievably catchy tune, it perfectly captures the rapture of feeling the Lord’s love. 


10,000 Maniacs, “These Are Days”

The best song ever written about accepting and fully enjoying the blessing that is every second.


Toad the Wet Sprocket, “I Will Not Take These Things For Granted”

Gratitude is an essential component of happiness.  Gratitude in the depths of suffering is an essential component of joy. 


Pete Townshend, “Let My Love Open the Door”

In one album liner, Townshend jokingly writes that this song is the sound of “Jesus singing!”  Or maybe it wasn’t a joke.


Vangelis, “Chariots of Fire”

This may be the most corny, sentimental entry on my list, but despite its thoroughly ironic saturation in pop culture, admit it: hearing this song makes you happy, and lets you know that you’re capable of greatness.


Steve Winwood, “Back in the High Life Again”

I close with another song about personal Restoration.


3 comments on “The Life Affirming Song List

  1. Given my love of the band, I feel compelled to nominate Float On as a truly life-affirming song. There are a good number, indeed, however, Float On is a song not only about life-affirmation but the musicality of it is very life-affirming as well.

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