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Why It Feels Good to Listen to Sad Songs

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Justin Mckibben

From Gary Jules and “Mad World” to Bob Dylan and “Knocking on Heavens Door,” from Jonny Cash and “Hurt” to R.E.M. and “Everybody Hurts,” then even more current like Foo Fighters singing “Best of You” and Adele singing “Hello” people seem to love listening to sad songs. Music moves us, and some more than others.

So many popular hits throughout time have been some of the saddest sad songs, ranging in context from loss of a loved one to heartbreak and substance abuse, sad songs seem to just get people. Often times sad songs actually move us deeply and in a more memorable way than happier ones.

So why is it that sad songs are so popular and people actually want to listen to them? Why does it feel so good to listen to sad songs?

Studies Seeking Sad Music

Probably one of the strangest things about sad songs is that people seem avid to readily consume music that can leave them feeling bad or recalling unpleasant events. One would wonder why people wouldn’t listen to uplifting music instead of songs that could depress them if they have such a vast world of music available to them.

  • Exhibit A

One study published last year in Frontiers in Psychology said that sad music might make people feel vicarious unpleasant emotions, but this experience can ultimately become a satisfying one because it allows a negative emotion to exist indirectly, and at a safe distance from the actually direct circumstances of that experience.

So instead of feeling being activity in the moment and wrapped up in the sorrow of the situation first hand, people get to feel nostalgia for a time when they were in a similar emotional state, but sad songs are perceived as a non-threatening way to remember sadness.

  • Exhibit B

According to another study in Frontiers of Psychology, there are a few different reasons different types of people feel good listening to sad songs.

People who are more empathetic are more likely to enjoy the kind of emotional experience created by sad songs. 

According to a review published in 2015 in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, other people enjoy sad songs because this kind of music helps them return to an emotionally balanced state.

Then there are those more susceptible to varied experiences who might enjoy sad songs because the unique emotions that come up when listening to the music fulfill their need for novelty in thoughts and feelings.

What all the data concludes is that in the end an individual’s love of a particular song or genre of music could have roots in their specific personality. So depending on the personality, the reaction to sad music may differ, but we end up feeling good when listening to sad music because it feeds some of our most basic needs.

Our Needs

Our need for significance is typically met by sad music because we feel a unique and deep personal attachment to songs that relate to our intimate experiences. Sad music helps us to feel more significant about the depth of our situations.

Our need for certainty is met because we can usually be certain about the connections we make with sad songs and with the feelings they bring up for us. Sad songs can anchor us into a memory or a belief that we know to be a truth in our lives.

Our need for uncertainty is also being met because we are reminded that there is still a side of loss in life. We are reminded of the elements of ambiguity and freedom that exist and how we will not always be in control of what happens or how we feel.

Our need for connection is met because sad songs can unite us with people who empathize with our sentiment or experiences. If we listen to sad love songs we can remember a deep connection we once held on to, or we can recall the connection we had to someone close to us who has passed on.

Sad songs make us feel good for all kinds of reasons. Some would even say sad songs are good for our mental health, and that need for variety is met because we get to know the highs and lows of life for the lessons and stories they hold for us. We see the sun can’t shine all the time, but we see the rain for being beautiful.

Music is one thing that can have some influence on how we feel, and sometimes reminds us how intensely we can feel. Having a healthy emotional response is one way we develop as healthier people. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135




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