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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 20, 2018

7 Powerful Questions To Find Out What You Want To Do With Your Life

7 Powerful Questions To Find Out What You Want To Do With Your Life

What do I want to do with my life? It’s a question all of us think about at one point or another.

For some, the answer comes easily. For others, it takes a lifetime to figure out.

It’s easy to just go through the motions and continue to do what’s comfortable and familiar. But for those of you who seek fulfillment, who want to do more, these questions will help you paint a clearer picture of what you want to do with your life.

1. What are the things I’m most passionate about?

The first step to living a more fulfilling life is to think about the things that you’re passionate about.

What do you love? What fulfills you? What “work” do you do that doesn’t feel like work? Maybe you enjoy writing, maybe you love working with animals or maybe you have a knack for photography.

The point is, figure out what you love doing, then do more of it.

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2. What are my greatest accomplishments in life so far?

Think about your past experiences and the things in your life you’re most proud of.

How did those accomplishments make you feel? Pretty darn good, right? So why not try and emulate those experiences and feelings?

If you ran a marathon once and loved the feeling you had afterwards, start training for another one. If your child grew up to be a star athlete or musician because of your teachings, then be a coach or mentor for other kids.

Continue to do the things that have been most fulfilling for you.

3. If my life had absolutely no limits, what would I choose to have and what would I choose to do?

Here’s a cool exercise: Think about what you would do if you had no limits.

If you had all the money and time in the world, where would you go? What would you do? Who would you spend time with?

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These answers can help you figure out what you want to do with your life. It doesn’t mean you need millions of dollars to be happy though.

What it does mean is answering these questions will help you set goals to reach certain milestones and create a path toward happiness and fulfillment. Which leads to our next question …

4. What are my goals in life?

Goals are a necessary component to set you up for a happy future. So answer these questions:

Once you figure out the answers to each of these, you’ll have a much better idea of what you should do with your life.

5. Whom do I admire most in the world?

Following the path of successful people can set you up for success.

Think about the people you respect and admire most. What are their best qualities? Why do you respect them? What can you learn from them?

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You’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.[1] So don’t waste your time with people who hold you back from achieving your dreams.

Spend more time with happy, successful, optimistic people and you’ll become one of them.

6. What do I not like to do?

An important part of figuring out what you want to do with your life is honestly assessing what you don’t want to do.

What are the things you despise? What bugs you the most about your current job?

Maybe you hate meetings even though you sit through 6 hours of them every day. If that’s the case, find a job where you can work more independently.

The point is, if you want something to change in your life, you need to take action. Which leads to our final question …

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7. How hard am I willing to work to get what I want?

Great accomplishments never come easy. If you want to do great things with your life, you’re going to have to make a great effort. That will probably mean putting in more hours the average person, getting outside your comfort zone and learning as much as you can to achieve as much as you can.

But here’s the cool part: it’s often the journey that is the most fulfilling part. It’s during these seemingly small, insignificant moments that you’ll often find that “aha” moments that helps you answer the question,

“What do I want to do with my life?”

So take the first step toward improving your life. You won’t regret it.

Featured photo credit: Andrew Ly via unsplash.com

Reference

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