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Science Says Listening To Sad Songs Can Make Us Happier

Science Says Listening To Sad Songs Can Make Us Happier

If you’ve ever experienced the bittersweet sensation of being caught in a miserable music feedback loop – e.g. listening to some of Bjork’s more heartbreaking ballads following a break-up, or diving headfirst into the back catalogue of The Smiths whenever you’ve had a bad day – then you might just breathe a sigh of relief: you might be more normal than you maybe first worried about.

While music has often been linked to patterns and changes in the way that our brains process – it can make us way more productive, given the right kind of track, for example – and how it affects our behaviour, it can also be found to work on helping us process unconscious thoughts and emotions.

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Research from various studies has found that our preference for moody, sad songs isn’t just down to the likelihood of listening to them when you’re on the outs. Sad music can in fact act as a mood stabiliser, an emotional support, and even a catharsis inducer, through the power of its generally mellow mood and often reflective, emotionally-invested and soul-searching lyrics.

You probably feel better for feeling worse

For example, Taruffi & Koelsch (2014), a Berlin-based research team, found that conversely to popular opinion, positive feeling (i.e. happiness, calmness, peace) was correlated with listening to typically sad music. The research team asked 772 participants across the globe to describe why they liked the songs they liked to listen to when in times of sadness or low mood, such as following the break-up of a relationship. Taruffi told The Huffington Post: “The most frequent emotion evoked was nostalgia, which is a bittersweet emotion — it’s more complex and it’s partly positive,” Taruffi said. “This helps explain why sad music is appealing and pleasurable for people.”

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The research team summarised that: “This is the first comprehensive survey of music-evoked sadness, revealing that listening to sad music can lead to beneficial emotional effects such as regulation of negative emotion and mood as well as consolation. Such beneficial emotional effects constitute the prime motivations for engaging with sad music in everyday life.” In short, listening to negative and sad music makes us feel better because we can use as an emotional outlet. There’s a reason why people are encouraged to listen to sad music when they’re sad; the music connects with the mood of the listener and allows them to express their emotions in a healthy way. Better than that, sad music also encourages empathy, as listeners not only connect with their own emotions, but with that of the musician, and through that, other people who have gone through the same situation, increasing empathy. The research additionally found that happy music for people in a positive mood had similar benefits, but were significantly smaller when compared to the sad music group of the study.

Getting over yourself

Sad music also provides us with catharsis – a painful but necessary and overall positive emotional purification – that is essential to healthy emotional behaviour. For years, science has provided evidence that crying can be a great way to provide catharsis and a positive mood boost, and sad music can facilitate the kind of emotional journey that allows you to let it all go and feel better as a result.

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Finally, sad music can develop strong emotional connections with us – even when we’re not feeling particularly sad. Elizabeth Margulis, author of On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind, said: “A sense of shared subjectivity with the music can arise. In descriptions of their most intense experiences of music, people often talk about a sense that the boundary between the music and themselves has dissolved.” In short, we form attachments to songs we connect to on a personal and subjective level, and so we are much more likely to listen to them repeatedly or in a great number over a shorter period of time. You might be in a good place and feeling happy, and yet find yourself listening to the new Adele song or Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’ a fair amount; this doesn’t mean you’re secretly melancholic – it might just mean that you’re working on your empathy muscles, or maybe just enjoying a song that really speaks to your heart. Nothing wrong with that, right?

Featured photo credit: A. and I. Kruk via shutterstock.com

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Chris Haigh

Writer, baker, co-host of "Good Evening Podcast" and "North By Nerdwest".

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Last Updated on December 9, 2019

5 Simple Ways to Relieve Stress Effectively

5 Simple Ways to Relieve Stress Effectively

Everyone experiences mental stress at one time or another. Maybe you’re starting a new career, job, or business, or you feel incredibly overwhelmed between work, parenting, and your love life (or a lack of it). It could even be that you simply feel that you have way too much to do and not enough time to do it,  plus, on top of everything, nothing seems to be going the way it should!

Yup, we all experience mental stress from time-to-time, and that’s okay as long as you have the tools, techniques and knowledge that allow you to fully relieve it once it comes.

Here are 5 tips for relieving mental stress when it comes so you can function at your best while feeling good (and doing well) in work, love, or life:

1. Get Rationally Optimistic

Mental stress starts with your perception of your experiences. For instance, most people get stressed out when they perceive their reality as “being wrong” in some way. Essentially, they have a set idea of how things “should be” at any given moment, and when reality ends up being different (not even necessarily bad), they get stressed.

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This process is simply a result of perception and can be easily “fixed” by recognizing that although life might not always be going as YOU think it should, it’s still going as it should—for your own benefit.

In fact, once you fully recognize that everything in your life ultimately happens for your own growth, progress, and development—so you can achieve your goals and dreams—your perception works in your favor. You soon process and respond to your experience of life differently, for your advantage. That’s the essence of becoming “rationally optimistic.”

The result: no more mental stress.

2. Unplug

Just like you might need to unplug your computer when it starts acting all crazy, you should also “unplug” your mind.

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How on earth do you unplug your mind? Simple: just meditate.

It isn’t nearly difficult or complicated as some people think, so, if you don’t already meditate, give it a try. Whether you meditate for 5 minutes, 30 minutes, or 2 hours, this is a surefire way to reduce mental stress.

Meditation has been scientifically proven to relax your body (resulting in less mental stress), while also reducing anxiety and high blood pressure.

3. Easy on the Caffeine

Yes, we know, we know—everyone loves a nice java buzz, and that’s okay, but there’s a fine line between a small caffeine pick-me-up and a racing heart and mind that throws you into a frenzy of mental stress.

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Try giving up caffeine for a while and see how you feel. And, if that’s completely out of the question for you, at least try to minimize it. You might find that lots of your mental stress mysteriously “disappears” as your caffeine intake goes down.

4. Attack Mental Stress Via the Back Door

That’s right: your body and mind are part of the whole being, and are constantly influencing and affecting each other. If you’re experiencing a lot of mental stress, try to reduce it by calming your body down—a calm body equals a calmer mind.

How do you calm your body down and reduce physical stress? A  great way to reduce physical stress (thereby reducing mental stress) is to take natural supplements that are proven to reduce stress and anxiety while lifting your mood. Three good ones to look into are kava-kava, St John’s wort, and rhodiola rosea:

  • Kava-kava is a natural plant known to have mild sedative properties, and you should be able to find it at your natural health food store or vitamin store. It’s available in capsules or liquid extract form.
  • St John’s wort is a natural flower used to treat depression. Again, it’s found at your local health store in capsules or liquid. Because it uplifts mood (enabling you to see the brighter side of all experiences) it helps relieve mental stress as well.
  • Rhodiola rosea is a natural plant shown to reduce stress and uplift mood, and Russian athletes have been using it forever. Like the other two supplements mentioned, rhodiola rosea can be found at your natural health store in capsule or liquid form.

While these supplements are all natural and can be very helpful for most people, always check with your health care provider first as they can cause side-effects depending on your current health situation etc.

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5. Good Old-Fashioned Exercise

This tip has been around forever because it works. Nothing relieves mental stress like running, kickboxing—you name it. Anything super-physical will wipe out most of your mental stresses once the exercise endorphins (happy chemicals) are released into your brain.

The result: mental stress will be gone!

So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or just plain stressed, try using some of the above tips. You can even print this out or save it to refer to regularly.

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Featured photo credit: Radu Florin via unsplash.com

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