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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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More by this author

Chris Haigh

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

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Last Updated on May 28, 2020

How to Overcome Boredom

How to Overcome Boredom

Have you ever been bored? Restless? Fidgety? In need of some inspiration?

I have a theory on boredom. I believe that the rate of boredom has increased alongside the pace of technology.

If you think about it, technology has provided us with mobile phones, laptops, Ipads, device after device – all to ultimately fix one problem: boredom.

What is Boredom?

We have become a global nation that feeds on entertainment. We associate ‘living’ with ‘doing’. People now do not know how to sit still, and we feel guilty when we are not doing anything. Today, inactivity has become the ultimate sin.

You might not realize it, but boredom stimulates a form of anxiety and stress. It evokes an emotional state that creates frustration and feeds procrastination.

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It’s a desire to be ‘doing something’ or to be ‘entertained’ – it’s a desire for sensory stimulation. What it boils down to is a lack of focus.

If you think about those times when you’re bored, it’s usually because you did not know what to do. So, indecision also plays a big part.

When we are focused on what’s important to us and what we want to achieve, it’s pretty hard to be bored. So, one answer to boredom is to become focused on what you want.

Sometimes It’s Good to Be Bored

If boredom is a desire for sensory stimulation – then what’s the opposite of that? To be content with no stimulation – in other words – to enjoy stillness.

Sometimes, it’s not boredom itself that causes the frustration but the resistance to doing nothing.

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Think about it. What would happen if you were to ‘let go’ of the desire to be entertained? You wouldn’t be bored anymore, and you will feel more relaxed!

In my experience, it’s often the most obvious, simplistic solutions that are the most powerful in life. So, when you’re bored, the easiest way to combat this is to enjoy it.

It may sound weird but think of ‘boredom’ as a form of ‘relaxation’. It’s a break from the constant stimulation that 21st-century living provides – constant TVs, mobile phones, radios, internet, emails, phone calls, etc.

Who knows, maybe ‘boredom’ is actually good for us?

Next time you’re ‘feeling bored’ instead of feeding the frustration by frantically looking for something to do, maybe you can sit back, relax, and savor the feeling of having nothing to do.

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In this article, I’ll share with you my 3-step strategy on how to overcome boredom.

3-Step Strategy to Overcome Boredom

1. Get Focused

Instead of chasing sensory stimulation at random, focus on what’s really important to you. Focusing on something important helps prevent boredom because it forces you to utilize your time productively.

You should ask yourself: what would make good use of your time? What could you be doing that would contribute to your major goals in life?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Spend some time in quiet contemplation considering what’s important to you.
  • Start that creative project you’ve been talking about for the last few weeks.
  • Brainstorm: think of some ideas for new innovative products or businesses.

2. Kill Procrastination

Boredom is useful in some ways because it gives you the energy and time to do things. It is only a problem if you let it. But if you use it to motivate yourself to be productive, then you can more easily overcome boredom.

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So, the next time you’re bored, why not put this good energy to use by ticking off those things that you have been meaning to get done but have been too busy to finish? This also presents a great time for you to clear your to-do list.

Here are some ideas:

  • Do some exercise.
  • Read a book.
  • Learn something new.
  • Call a friend.
  • Get creative (draw, paint, sculpt, create music, write).
  • Do a spring cleaning.
  • Wash the car.
  • Renovate the house.
  • Re-arrange the furniture.
  • Write your shopping list.
  • Water the plants.
  • Walk the dog.
  • Sort out your mail & email.
  • De-clutter (clear out that wardrobe).

3. Enjoy Boredom

If none of the above solutions work, then you can try a different approach. Don’t give in to boredom and instead choose to enjoy it. This doesn’t mean allowing yourself to waste your time being bored. Instead, think of it as your time to relax and re-energize, which will help you be more productive the next time you work.

Contrary to popular belief, we don’t need to be constantly doing things to be productive. In fact, research has shown that people are more productive when they take periods of rest to recharge.[1] Taking breaks once in a while helps boost your performance and can help make you feel more motivated.

So, take some time to relax. You never know, you might even like it.

Final Thoughts

Learning how to overcome boredom may be difficult at the beginning, but it can be easier if you make use of some techniques. You can start with my 3-step strategy on how to overcome boredom and work your way from there. So, ready your mind and make use of these tips, and you will be overcoming boredom in no time.

More Tips on Overcoming Boredom

Featured photo credit: Johnny Cohen via unsplash.com

Reference

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