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Sad Music Can Boost Mental Health, Study Finds

Sad Music Can Boost Mental Health, Study Finds

It isn’t strange that people really love cheerful songs. You know, the ones you can dance to, sing in the shower to, and drive with the window all the way down to. Many of us can probably admit to blasting our favorite up-tempo song a million times. Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” Whitney Houston’s “I Want to Dance with Somebody,” and the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” certainly put us in the James Brown “I Feel Good” kind of mood.

What is strange is that sad music actually holds the power to make us feel good about ourselves when we are down in the dumps and when we’re already feeling good. If sadness is an emotion we typically try to avoid, why do we listen to sad songs over and over again? What kind of pull do they have on us?

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I’ll admit, Adele’s “Hello” is for now my all-time favorite sad song. Even when I don’t feel sad and when I’m not having a bad day, the lyrics of her song reel me in over and over again. It’s somber and sad, yet so very powerful. Does any of this sound familiar? Probably so. And science has quite a bit to tell us as to why we keep certain sad songs in replay mode.

Research Background and Findings

In 2014, Liila Taruffi and Stefan Koelsch at the Freie Universität Berlin in Germany decided to explore the reasoning behind our love of sad songs. They conducted a survey of over 770 individuals from around the world and published their findings in the journal, PLOS ONE. They discovered that overall sad music can evoke positive feelings such as peacefulness, harmony, and kindness. Besides that, the researchers also discovered that sad music causes us to feel more empathic because we connect to the emotions of the artist. We are able to mentally experience sadness without any “real life implications” of a sad event such as the death of a loved one. Such mental exercises can challenge us to reach beyond ourselves and be compassionate to someone else in their time of need.

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Explanation

Whether it’s music, a speech, or art, at our core, we connect to things that touch us personally. It’s almost like being in a support group. Everyone in the group has had the same or similar experiences and by sharing and connecting with each other around common experiences, everyone benefits. When we are connected to something, we unintentionally repeat it, mull it over in our heads, (or in the case of music, replay it). We relate to what is being shared by the musical artists. In so doing, we discover that no boundaries exist between us, and the music is a reflection of our souls. Dr. Robert Zatorre, a neuroscientist at the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University said, “We’re not always happy. Sometimes we’re sad. Or Angry. To the extent that you can use music to elicit those moods, and allow you to reflect on your own internal response to those emotions, that can actually be extremely useful and even uplifting.”

Therapeutic Emotion Regulation

Respondents to the survey said when they felt sad or were in a bad mood, they felt better after listening to sad music. The sad music offered an extra boost to their attitude and well-being. In a way, this is similar to how we sometimes feel after we’ve had a good cry. Yes, science says crying can be therapeutic. The sometimes overwhelming feeling of wanting to cry is part of our human response to emotions. It can be therapeutic as well. Researchers found that 90 minutes after participants in a study cried, they reported feeling much better than before they started crying. Songs help to express our inner emotions and to release emotions, permanently or temporarily, that are no longer needed for our health and well-being.

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We have come to believe that sadness and any of its counterparts such as depression must be avoided. Indeed, deep sadness that leads to major depression or other disorders should be taken seriously and handled with professional care. However, within the bounds of health and wellbeing, sadness can evoke good feelings and offer emotional regulation. Sad music can encourage prosocial emotions such as compassion, nurture, and empathy. Listening to sad music can connect us with humanity in a way that gives us insight into ourselves, our relationships, and our purpose.

Not all sadness is bad. In fact, as it turns out, Elton John was right. Sad songs really do say so much. 

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Daniella Whyte

Psychology Researcher

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Last Updated on September 18, 2020

13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

For the original article by Celestine: 13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

“We all have problems. The way we solve them is what makes us different.” ~Unknown

“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” – Hans Selye

Have you ever experienced moments when things just don’t go your way? For example, losing your keys, accidentally spilling your drink, waking up late, missing your buses/trains, forgetting to bring your things, and so on?

You’re not alone. All of us, myself included, experience times when things don’t go as we expect.

Here is my guide on how to deal with daily setbacks.

1. Take a step back and evaluate

When something bad happens, take a step back and evaluate the situation. Some questions to ask yourself:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. Are you the only person facing this problem in the world today?
  3. How does this problem look like at an individual level? A national level? On a global scale?
  4. What’s the worst possible thing that can happen to you as a result of this?
  5. How is it going to impact your life in the next 1 year? 5 years? 10 years?

Doing this exercise is not to undermine the problem or disclaiming responsibility, but to consider different perspectives, so you can adopt the best approach for it. Most problems we encounter daily may seem like huge issues when they crop up, but most, if not all, don’t have much impact in our life beyond that day.

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2. Vent if you have to, but don’t linger on the problem

If you feel very frustrated and need to let off some steam, go ahead and do that. Talk to a friend, complain, crib about it, or scream at the top of your lungs if it makes you happy.

At the same time, don’t get caught up with venting. While venting may temporarily relieve yourself, it’s not going to solve the problem ultimately. You don’t want to be an energy vampire.

Vent if there’s a need to, but do it for 15 to 20 minutes. Then move on.

3. Realize there are others out there facing this too

Even though the situation may be frustrating, you’re not alone. Remember there are almost 7 billion people in the world today, and chances are that other people have faced the same thing before too. Knowing it’s not just you helps you to get out of a self-victimizing mindset.

4. Process your thoughts/emotions

Process your thoughts/emotions with any of the four methods:

  1. Journal. Write your unhappiness in a private diary or in your blog. It doesn’t have to be formal at all – it can be a brain dump on rough paper or new word document. Delete after you are done.
  2. Audio taping. Record yourself as you talk out what’s on your mind. Tools include tape recorder, your PC (Audacity is a freeware for recording/editing audio) and your mobile (most mobiles today have audio recording functions). You can even use your voice mail for this. Just talking helps you to gain awareness of your emotions. After recording, play back and listen to what you said. You might find it quite revealing.
  3. Meditation. At its simplest form, meditation is just sitting/lying still and observing your reality as it is – including your thoughts and emotions. Some think that it involves some complex mambo-jumbo, but it doesn’t.
  4. Talking to someone. Talking about it with someone helps you work through the issue. It also gets you an alternate viewpoint and consider it from a different angle.

5. Acknowledge your thoughts

Don’t resist your thoughts, but acknowledge them. This includes both positive and negative thoughts.

By acknowledging, I mean recognizing these thoughts exist. So if say, you have a thought that says, “Wow, I’m so stupid!”, acknowledge that. If you have a thought that says, “I can’t believe this is happening to me again”, acknowledge that as well.

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Know that acknowledging the thoughts doesn’t mean you agree with them. It’s simply recognizing the existence of said thoughts so that you can stop resisting yourself and focus on the situation on hand.

6. Give yourself a break

If you’re very stressed out by the situation, and the problem is not time sensitive, then give yourself a break. Take a walk, listen to some music, watch a movie, or get some sleep. When you’re done, you should feel a lot more revitalized to deal with the situation.

7. Uncover what you’re really upset about

A lot of times, the anger we feel isn’t about the world. You may start off feeling angry at someone or something, but at the depth of it, it’s anger toward yourself.

Uncover the root of your anger. I have written a five part anger management series on how to permanently overcome anger.

After that, ask yourself: How can you improve the situation? Go to Step #9, where you define your actionable steps. Our anger comes from not having control on the situation. Sitting there and feeling infuriated is not going to change the situation. The more action we take, the more we will regain control over the situation, the better we will feel.

8. See this as an obstacle to be overcome

As Helen Keller once said,

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”

Whatever you’re facing right now, see it as an obstacle to be overcome. In every worthy endeavor, there’ll always be countless obstacles that emerge along the way. These obstacles are what separate the people who make it, and those who don’t. If you’re able to push through and overcome them, you’ll emerge a stronger person than before. It’ll be harder for anything to get you down in the future.

9. Analyze the situation – Focus on actionable steps

In every setback, there are going to be things that can’t be reversed since they have already occurred. You want to focus on things that can still be changed (salvageable) vs. things that have already happened and can’t be changed. The only time the situation changes is when you take steps to improve it. Rather than cry over spilt milk, work through your situation:

  1. What’s the situation?
  2. What’s stressing you about this situation?
  3. What are the next steps that’ll help you resolve them?
  4. Take action on your next steps!

After you have identified your next steps, act on them. The key here is to focus on the actionable steps, not the inactionable steps. It’s about regaining control over the situation through direct action.

10. Identify how it occurred (so it won’t occur again next time)

A lot of times we react to our problems. The problem occurs, and we try to make the best out of what has happened within the context. While developing a healthy coping mechanism is important (which is what the other helping points are on), it’s also equally important, if not more, to understand how the problem arose. This way, you can work on preventing it from taking place next time, vs. dealing reactively with it.

Most of us probably think the problem is outside of our control, but reality is most of the times it’s fully preventable. It’s just a matter of how much responsibility you take over the problem.

For example, for someone who can’t get a cab for work in the morning, he/she may see the problem as a lack of cabs in the country, or bad luck. However, if you trace to the root of the problem, it’s probably more to do with (a) Having unrealistic expectations of the length of time to get a cab. He/she should budget more time for waiting for a cab next time. (b) Oversleeping, because he/she was too tired from working late the previous day. He/she should allocate enough time for rest next time. He/she should also pick up better time management skills, so as to finish work in lesser time.

11. Realize the situation can be a lot worse

No matter how bad the situation is, it can always be much worse. A plus point vs. negative point analysis will help you realize that.

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12. Do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it

No matter how bad your situation may seem, do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it. Life is too beautiful to worry so much over daily issues. Take a step back (#1), give yourself a break if you need to (#6), and do what you can within your means (#9). Everything else will unfold accordingly. Worrying too much about the outcome isn’t going to change things or make your life any better.

13. Pick out the learning points from the encounter

There’s something to learn from every encounter. What have you learned from this situation? What lessons have you taken away?

After you identify your learning points, think about how you’re going to apply them moving forward. With this, you’ve clearly gained something from this encounter. You’ve walked away a stronger, wiser, better person, with more life lessons to draw from in the future.

Get the manifesto version of this article: [Manifesto] What To Do When Things Don’t Go Your Way

Featured photo credit: Alice Donovan Rouse via unsplash.com

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