Why Do We Listen to Sad Music When We Are Sad?

Issue # 
April 19, 2022

One of the greatest powers of music lies in people's ability to emotionally connect with it. This is arguably why music has been a favorite pastime throughout history and throughout every culture. 

Today, music’s ability to guide emotion and reduce distress makes it an essential element of health and wellness. One question we get asked a lot is, why do people listen to sad music when they’re sad?  Or, why does Spiritune music match music to my emotion, even when it’s a negative one?

For context, transient sadness, as a response to an unpleasant situation or event, is widely recognized as a negative and, therefore, unpleasant emotion. What this means is that despite it being an inevitable part of the human experience, people often go out of their way to avoid feeling its often uncomfortable effects. One way to cope with uncomfortable feelings is by listening to music.

However, it seems counterintuitive that, rather than opting for upbeat tunes when feeling down, many choose tearjerkers instead to help induce positive emotions. It seems inevitable that this kind of music would only serve to make us feel worse. Yet this doesn’t seem to be the case at all

So what exactly is it about slow-tempo, low-energy, melancholic music that makes it effective at banishing the blues? Let’s take a closer look. 

It Supports Emotional Resolution

Pushing negative thoughts to the back of your mind with cheerful tunes doesn’t always work out as well as you might think. Instead it might only highlight just how distant you currently are from positive thoughts and feelings. Rather than uplifting your mood, this could have a jarring effect equivalent to a stranger telling you to “just smile and relax” when you’re feeling down. 

Queuing up a more somber playlist can serve as a form of catharsis allowing you to wallow in your sadness, truly feel the depths of the emotion, and then be able to release it. In this way, it becomes a kind of coping mechanism enabling you to embrace and accept negative emotions as you do more positive ones. This can help you get better in tune both with the situation and with your emotional health as a whole.  

It Distracts From Current Problems

While personal feelings of sadness might be enticing to actively avoid, there is something about sadness in the arts - including music - that just seems to tempt us. Studies show time and again that sad songs are considered to have a higher aesthetic value and that people genuinely appreciate the feelings of pleasurable sadness that they bring out in us. 

Sad music, on the whole, also tends to be a lot more complex. In this way it is also considered much more beautiful than poppy, upbeat songs. When you listen to these kinds of melodies, you can more fully engage with them. This proves to also, therefore, serve as a more useful distraction from current events and situations that may be underlying your present gloomy thoughts. Although, obviously, they will still have to be fully dealt with sooner or later. 

It Boosts Feelings of Connectedness

Feeling very low can be an incredibly lonely experience. It’s all too easy to convince yourself that you’re the only person in the world who is or ever has been struggling with these kinds of emotions. Therefore, when we find a song that resonates with our current melancholy state, it can be particularly powerful in validating our emotions and helping us feel less alone. 

The realization that other people have indeed been through what you are going through, can help you feel more understood, more connected and even more at peace with the situation. In this way, music that aligns with our current emotional state can prompt feelings of belonging and/or evoke the comforting experience similar to sharing our sorrows with a good friend. 

It Stimulates the Release of Comforting Hormones

On a biological level, listening to melancholic music has been shown to boost levels of hormones such as prolactin. Among its numerous functions, prolactin is considered to modulate feelings of sadness by preparing the body to deal with traumatic events. It fends off overwhelming feelings of grief by enhancing calmness and, in some cases, even pleasure. 

Sad music can also stimulate the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Strongly associated with both pleasure and rewards, dopamine is considered to be the “feel good” hormone. A flood of this happy chemical messenger can produce temporary feelings of euphoria and even more long-lasting ones of happiness, helping to turn a low mood on its head. 

Here at Spiritune we are passionate about the powers of music to enhance mental health. One of the ways we “match” our music to your emotions (yes, even the sad emotions), is by engaging a music therapy principle, called the Iso Principle.  The Iso Principle involves first matching music to an individual’s mood or emotion, then gradually altering the music to shift toward a different, more positive mood. 

It’s these precision music elements that make Spiritune’s music-based approach to mental health unique. By incorporating principles from music therapy and neuroscience into our music application, we can help you boost your mood, reduce your anxiety and help you reach your emotional goals. Try us out today if you’re looking for an easy and effective way to manage your mental health.

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