When I think of the songs from my childhood, it’s always easy to remember the simple, play along ones, sung to a happy tune.  “If You’re Happy and You Know It” is a perfect example.  Like many familiar children’s songs, it has been altered in various ways over the years. 

Here is the start of the original song as it is known to many people:

If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands.
If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands.
If you're happy and you know it,
And you really want to show it,
If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands.

A common variation of the fourth line is "Then your face will surely show it".  The song usually proceeds with other verses that replace "clap your hands" with phrases such as "stomp your feet" or “touch your toes” or “pat your head”.  You can view and print the full lyrics of the Kidsongs version here

Repetitive songs that get kids up and moving have always been popular with preschool teachers, camp counselors and parents the world over.  There is a Japanese version of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” written by Rihito Kimura called, "Shiawase Nara Te o Tatako" (meaning “If You’re Happy, Clap Your Hands” -- so close!).  This Japanese version is on the movie soundtrack of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”.

Cal Worthington used a variation of the tune for years, as the advertising jingle for his Worthington auto dealerships throughout the United States (including Alaska!)

The international pedigree of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” traces back to an old Latvian folk song from the early 1900’s.  An instrumental version written by Isaak Dunayevsky was featured in the 1938 Soviet film “Volga-Volga”, directed by Grigori Aleksandrov.  When Aleksandrov came up with the idea for his movie, he was rowing a boat on the San Francisco Bay with his friend, silent film star Charlie Chaplin.  Chaplin jokingly told him that the movie should be called “Volga-Volga”.  Apparently Aleksandrov took him seriously! 

The universal appeal of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” probably comes from its catchy tune, positive message and people's fondness for songs that teach children while entertaining them.  Songs like this one and “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”, “This Old Man" and “Old MacDonald Had A Farm” are all examples of songs with a basic structure and a variable phrase.  These repeated phrases help develop children’s memory and language skills.  The variable lyrics tied to the play along gestures encourage kids to pay attention to different word sounds and meanings -- essential building blocks for reading.  The “play along” aspect of these songs, especially actions like “stomp your feet” and “clap your hands” help the development of balance and coordination.   Fine motor skills also come into play when acting out lyrics like “touch your nose” or miming “a quack, quack here”. 

“If You’re Happy and You Know It” is fun, entertaining, has a positive message and is even good for your kids.  Perhaps that’s why it’s been the most downloaded song here at Kidsongs.com for three months in a row.  We like it and clearly our fans do, too.

Check back often for more blog articles from this series, “Kidsongs Guide to Children’s Songs”.  Learn the history, fun facts and some behind-the-scenes stories about everyone’s favorite songs.

The song "If You're Happy and You Know It" is featured on the "A Day At the Circus" DVD, the "My Favorite Kidsongs Collection" CDs"A Day At The Circus" Album Download, The Kidsongs TV  Show episode "Let's Work Together" on DVD and sheet music, too!