If any artist should be excused for thinking 2020 was a bummer of a year, it should be Brett Eldredge. He spent three long, introspective years working on a bold new album that fairly begs for live performance only to have its release coincide with the great COVID-19 shutdown. 

But you'll get no pity party from Eldredge. Instead, he's broadcasting his current mood with new radio single, "Good Day," a sunny shot of hopefulness that's sure to be infectious — in the best way, of course.

"There was no better song to put out right now," the 34-year-old singer tells PEOPLE. "I think we've all been through hell in the last while — everybody in different ways. It's a song for the moment, for sure."

Surprisingly, Eldredge wrote "Good Day," which appears on his critically acclaimed 2020 album, Sunday Drive, long before the quarantine had put the country in the doldrums. The song, co-written with Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk, is the result of Eldredge's personal realization that he has the power to determine his own outlook.

"It's forty-two, cold and rainy / and something's got me thinkin' maybe / It's gonna be a good day," he sings, defying logic to brush away the gloom.

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"This song, in particular, has always been for me," says Eldredge. "When I wrote it, I was in a place where I needed to change my way of thinking. I wanted to start setting my intentions — instead of just, 'Okay, here's another day I wake up. Some things might go all right, but there's a lot of bad stuff going on out there.' I decided I need to change the narrative and rewire the way I think a little bit. So, when I wake up, I'm thinking I'm gonna put my best foot forward and have a good day. … It doesn't mean it's gonna be magic. It doesn't mean everything's gonna go right. But at least I'm setting my intention for a good day."

"Good Day" is just one of 12 tracks that radiate a depth and vulnerability that Eldredge consciously cultivated during a lengthy process of self-discovery. Beset by anxieties and self-doubts, he undertook a regimen of meditation, journaling and therapy, and for a time, stepped away from social media and even his smartphone. 

Already renowned for possessing one of country's most expressive voices, Eldredge calls Sunday Drive his "becoming-a-man kind of record," the project that helped him "find my feet and get rooted."  It also broke him, he says, of an obsessive need to chase hits.

"It is a business, I guess," he says, "but any time I start to feel that creeping in, I'm like, I don't need that. I need music. I need art. I need to say something important and special to me, and that's going to be special to somebody else. I feel like I'm bringing something to the world more than just something that's gonna give you a good feeling for a few weeks and then you move on. I want you to think about that [song] for the rest of your life, and walk down the aisle to that, and play that at your 80th birthday."

Not getting to introduce his revelatory album in live settings has been "the tough part," Eldredge admits. But he's taken heart from fan response on social media: "Making this record has only made me write more songs, because now I have my foundation of where I want to go, where I want to build from. And my fans have been more receptive to this than anything I've ever done in a way that just inspires me to speak my heart more than I ever have before."

Eldredge reveals he's working to open that heart even more, especially in his personal life. "I think for the longest time you build all these walls up," says the never-married singer. "And then you get comfortable and protected in your world … and you don't know who to open up to at times, and so that just becomes your norm."

He admits, at one point, he was convinced singlehood would be his permanent state, but now he says, the idea that love and marriage are beyond his reach "is not something that's in my thought process anymore."

"You just don't know what's going to show up," he adds, " but I think opening myself up to that and putting in the work on myself to really care about myself more is definitely the first step I've had to take."

In this time of quarantine, Eldredge says, he's finding his joy working on deepening his relationships with friends and family. "You can't go get in big groups," he says, "but what you can do is connect with the people that really care about you … There are a lot more people there for me in such a deeper, more profound way than I ever knew. Now when I go back to the world of whatever we think is regular, I can carry that awareness with me."

He's found another new soul-nourishing pleasure in regular hikes around the Nashville area's hilly terrain. "I've always liked to hike a little bit, but hiking for me has become a medicine," Eldredge says. "I love that connection with myself, with nature. I never thought of just going on long walks in the woods, and now I feel like some weird old philosopher when I go out there. I start thinking, and I start getting these ideas about life."

Of course, Eldredge has a hiking buddy along for his treks: his beloved dog, Edgar. The 4½-year-old Weimaraner-Vizsla mix spent his first years co-starring with his master in social media and stage appearances, and most memorably, in the music video for "Love Someone." But, Eldredge has recently put an end to Edgar's celebrity life — just one more step, he says, in his own evolution. 

"I got to the point where it started to feel like a circus, honestly," Eldredge says. "I just wanted him to be my dog."

So Edgar's happier now?

"Oh, yeah," says Eldredge. "And I am, too."

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