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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 July 15, 2019

41 Beautiful Pictures That Show What True Love Is All About

41 Beautiful Pictures That Show What True Love Is All About

Some things in life are hard to describe, yet we can recognize them when we see them.

Love is one of those things.

True love comes in many different forms, but here are some that many of us know well.

True love means supporting those who can’t support themselves

supportive couple

    A young man comforts his date in Times Square, New York City. Image by mbtrama

    strong hug

      A young man holds his significant other close to him. Image by Brad Fults

      running help

        A young track competitor helps one of her injured opponents over the finish line. Image from ViralNova.com

        feeding kitten

          A soldier in the Korean War takes time to feed a baby kitten. Image from US Naval Insititute

          It’s having the perfect selfie partner

          mom and daughter selfie

            A mother and her daughter take a selfie together. Image by Andrew Fysh

            girlfriends

              Two young girls pose for the camera. Image by Rolands Lakis

              selfies

                A happy couple takes a picture together. Image by Kayla Heineman

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                selfie

                  Two best friends take a selfie together. Image by Jason Wahido

                  dude selfie

                    Friends take a selfie together. Image by Glenn Scofield Williams

                    It’s all the warm fuzzies

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                      A young man spends time with his dog on a beach. Image by Magdalena Roeseler

                      DSC06952

                        A pet owner hugs his dog while on a day trip in San Francisco. Image by Taro the Shiba Inu

                        It means having a friend to photobomb you

                        photobomb

                          A boy makes a funny face as he poses for a picture with his brother. Image by Michael Bentley

                          old man photobomb

                            A man photobombs his wife while their grandson snaps a picture. Image by Frank

                            family photobomb

                              Family members photobomb their relatives’ Thanksgiving day family photo. Image by Beth Scupham

                              boyfriend photobomb

                                A friend photobombs the photographer and their friend, the woman in the foreground of this photo. Image by Lachlan Hardy

                                True love means being there even when life gets unbearably hard

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                                shoulder to cry on

                                  A family watches the Vermont National Guard depart for Afghanistan. Image by The U.S. Army

                                  flood dog

                                    During a monsoon in the Philippines, a boy carries his dog to safety. Image by Romeo Ranoco

                                    A woman is rescued from flood waters by a resident standing on top of her car during heavy rain in Chalandri suburb north of Athens

                                      A man helps a woman out of her vehicle during a flood in Chalandri, Greece. Image by John Kolesidis

                                      lunch

                                        A woman has lunch with her husband every day, even after he’s passed away. Image from ViralNova.com

                                        hug

                                          A woman hugs the mother of 6-year-old Noah Ponzer, who was one of the victims of the Sandy Hook shootings. Image by Spencer Platt

                                          rubble

                                            An Oklahoma couple pauses while trying to salvage belongings from a family member’s home after a tornado. Image by Adrees Latif

                                            sister and brother

                                              A girl puts her arm around her little brother as they wait outside of Sandy Hook Elementary after gunshots are fired. Image by Reuters.

                                              headstone

                                                A woman sits at her husband’s grave the day before their wedding anniversary. Image from NBC news

                                                It means taking the time for long goodbyes

                                                110321-N-BT887-100

                                                  A man says goodbye to his son before deploying. Image by Official U.S. Navy Page

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                                                  national guard goodbye

                                                    A South Carolina man says goodbye to his son before deploying for Afghanistan. Image by The National Guard

                                                    saying goodbye

                                                      A Sergeant hugs both of his sons before being deployed to Afghanistan. Image by The National Guard

                                                      And cherishing reunions

                                                      husband home

                                                        A woman hugs her husband as she sees him for the first time since his deployment to Iraq. Image by The U.S. Army

                                                        boyfriend home

                                                          A young  woman hugs her significant other as he returns home for Kuwait. Image by The National Guard

                                                          mother hug

                                                            A mother drops to her knees as she hugs her son on her return home from the Persian Gulf. Image by The National Guard

                                                            True love is letting yourself feel young when they’re around

                                                            elderly women

                                                              Two friends on their smartphones. Image by Robert Neff

                                                              feeling young

                                                                A young couple getting their picture taken. Image by db Photograph

                                                                sprinkler dad

                                                                  A father plays in a sprinkler with his daughter at Millennium Park in Chicago. Image by Ben Forsberg

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                                                                  subway couple

                                                                    A young couple on a subway enjoys sharing time together, while the girlfriend’s father sneaks a photo of them. Image by Gareth Williams

                                                                    wheelchairs

                                                                      A couple holds hands on a fall day. Image by David Amsler

                                                                      It’s letting yourself be silly… just because they’ll enjoy it

                                                                      silly faces

                                                                        A grandfather makes faces at the camera with his granddaughters. Image by Tim Pierce

                                                                        vote for pedro

                                                                          A woman’s father wears a Napoleon Dynamite t-shirt to make his daughter laugh. Image by emdot

                                                                          True love is allowing yourself to show how you really feel

                                                                          date night

                                                                            A young couple kisses in the back of a restaurant in Washington, D.C. Image by Derek Key

                                                                            playing violin

                                                                              Violinist Nancy Dinovo plays at a memorial service for the victims of 9/11. Image by Christopher Morris

                                                                              True love is timeless

                                                                              old friends

                                                                                Friends spending some time together. Image by Cristian Bortes

                                                                                sitting around a fire

                                                                                  A group of friends sits around a campfire eating. Image by New Old Stock

                                                                                  elderly couple

                                                                                    An elderly couple walks down a street together. Image by Matteo Paciotti

                                                                                    Featured photo credit: Matteo Paciotti via flickr.com

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