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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 March 13, 2019

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

1. Work on the small tasks.

When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

2. Take a break from your work desk.

Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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3. Upgrade yourself

Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

4. Talk to a friend.

Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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6. Paint a vision to work towards.

If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

7. Read a book (or blog).

The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

8. Have a quick nap.

If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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9. Remember why you are doing this.

Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

10. Find some competition.

Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

11. Go exercise.

Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

12. Take a good break.

Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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