Sounds that Make Us Smile

Have you ever heard a sound that makes you smile simply by association? Maybe it takes you back in time to a happy memory or perhaps it’s simply a lovely sound that evokes feelings of warmth and joy. According to research, certain sounds are generally more satisfying than others, with most people preferring a relatively small number of specific sounds – among the top ten favourites are a crackling log fire, rain pattering against the window, an infant laughing, birds chirping, autumn leaves crunching beneath your feet, the wind rustling through the trees, waves crashing against rocks and a purring cat.

Psychologists have studied why we seem to favour these natural sounds above all others and have come up with a few theories.



In the case of water sounds such as waves breaking on the rocks, the drumming of a shower, a waterfall or a babbling brook, they seem to be unparalleled in their ability to calm frazzled nerves and they can even send us to sleep.

Scientists believe the relaxing properties may be down to what they describe as the “primal rhythms” produced by the sounds of water. They help people to quieten an over-active mind, regulate their breathing and recall memories of more peaceful times spent at one with nature, such as childhood days out. This is reflected in the number of relaxation CDs on the market that use the sounds of water as therapy.


Calming fireplace

Most people love sitting around a crackling fire and watching the flames dancing in the hearth. The sound seems to almost hypnotise people into a drowsy, relaxed state, where talking isn’t necessary and the soothing sound of the logs burning brings a sense of satisfaction.

Scientists say people have an age-old fascination with fire. It was one of the earliest tools used by humans to improve their natural environment – helping them to keep warm and as a means of cooking food. Early civilisations would hold social gatherings around the fire after dark. Many thousands of years later, the sounds of a crackling fire seem to somehow spark an almost primitive response.


Repetitive sounds

Having the opposite effect to relaxing water sounds, some other well-liked sounds appear to be more of a pick-me-up. These include crunching dry autumn leaves underfoot, walking on gravel and walking on hard-packed snow. We like them because they have more of a staccato rhythm and this means they invigorate our brain – rather than lulling us into a relaxed state and making us sleepy.

Another sound in the top 30 sounds that make us smile is a vehicle rolling up a gravel drive and stopping. However, this is popular for quite a different reason! Apparently, it fills listeners with excitement as they await the arrival through the door of a family member or guest.



Sounds that radiate happiness, such as an infant giggling or a cat purring, are the ultimate pick-me-up for most people. This is because they are born from pure joy that isn’t self-conscious – it happens spontaneously as a result of happiness.

The feelings that the sound produces are contagious, lifting us from our day-to-day stress and making us think of happy and carefree times. Psychologists say these sounds reassure us that all is well in life.


White noise

Perhaps more oddly, another top 30 sound is one that therapists refer to as “white noise”. It is a calming buzz, likened to the sound of radio static. It “absorbs” all background noises and creates a steady, calming background noise. Many people like the soothing hum of a fan in the bedroom on a warm night as they are going to sleep.

Scientists say white noise can be an effective sleeping aid, while it is also a recognised treatment for tinnitus – ringing in the ears. It can also boost concentration in the workplace by blocking out distracting sounds.

While we all have our favourite sounds that make us smile, noise can be a nuisance that seriously affects our health and wellbeing – such as excess noise in the workplace or home. Sound Planning provides noise and vibration consultancy services and we specialise in the design and supply of noise control products.

Please contact us for more information on our bespoke solutions.


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