Did you know that sad music can actually make you happy? Moreover, there is a science behind this weird phenomenon.
Do you feel cold and lost in desperation? You build up hope, but failure’s all you’ve known, Remember, all the sadness and frustration and let it go, let it go.
– Linkin Park
Failure, depression, heartbreak, desperation all lead to one overwhelming feeling of sadness. While it is perfectly normal for a person to wallow in self-pity during this phase, it is also normal for people to turn to music as a means of escape.
Ideally, when we are sad or depressed, it would be wise to turn to a peppy – lively number – to lighten our mood. But on the contrary, we are attracted to the enduring melancholy tunes. Have you ever given a thought to why you have upped the volume on the saddest song in your playlist and have it playing on a loop?
Well, the answer lies in your conscience. As much as you try to get up and dust off the feeling of sadness, the guilt of letting go makes you turn to a sad number for solace.
But contrary to our beliefs, a sad song does quite the opposite – by making us happy.
Yes, you heard it right. Sad music works as an antidote in your sad situation and helps boost morale and uplift mood. Don’t believe me – it’s understandable – but science has proof: Sad music is actually good for you.
The Science behind Music and Emotion
While melancholy tunes induce an overwhelming feeling of sadness in listeners, it is one of the most sought after sounds when one just wants to ‘Let Go.’ While the situation may seem paradoxical, it has puzzled many musicologists in the past and has captured the attention of many psychologists.
In ‘A Theory of Tonal Hierarchies in Music,’ Carol L. Krumhansl and Lola L. Cuddy note two distinct perspectives – the first aspect indicates that music itself has inherent, unchangeable qualities that incite a particular emotional response desired by the composer.
The second view states that the listener’s emotions are a product of emotions they associate or recognize within the music.
Simply put, a sad song will drive the audience to associate with the sad emotions portrayed by the composer. What this leads to is a phenomenon we commonly call as, ‘sweet anticipation.’ We expect to feel sad and gloomy while listening to a sad song but are surprisingly pleased when our expectations are surpassed.
The Jungian perspective applied in music therapy states that music is often used to express what is otherwise inexpressible. Sad music induces nostalgia of happier moments – moments where we had our emotions in place – thus making it a pick-me-up rather than a put-me-down.
So How Does a sad Song really work in our Brain?
Hey Jude, Don’t make it bad, take a sad song and make it better.
– The Beatles
David Huron, a professor at Ohio State’s School of Music, in his article, ‘Why is sad music pleasurable?’ mentions that “levels of the hormone prolactin increase when sad – producing a consoling psychological effect suggestive of homeostatic function.”
Prolactin is essentially a protein which enables mammals to produce milk. It also has other wide-ranging functions in the body, including influencing your behavior and regulating the immune system.
Prolactin also has important psychological effects. According to Huron, prolactin produces feelings of tranquility, calmness, well-being, consolation state.
During periods of stress, heartbreak, and low physiological arousal, exposure to sad music encourages psychic tears – release of prolactin – which effectively limits the pain and prevents the grief state from escalating.
So to say, the listeners of sad music emulate the emotions of the composer, causing them to weep and eventually release prolactin that composes or calms them.
List of Songs for you to listen
Here’s a list of songs I have on my playlist that you can use when you are feeling down and out:
- “Someone Like You,” Adele
- “Tears of the Lonely,” Don Williams
- “Unchained Melody,” Righteous Brothers
- “Ben,” Michael Jackson
- “The Sounds of Silence,” Simon & Garfunkel
- “The Heart Wants What It Wants,” Selena Gomez
- “Because of You,” Kelly Clarkson
- “Wake me up when September Ends,” Green Day
- “Candle in the Wind,” Elton John
- “Lean on Me” Bill Withers
Listening to someone sing about the situation you are in is an antidote. You begin to realize that the sadness you are feeling isn’t as threatening as you initially assumed it to be.
Sad music is more of a shoulder you can lean on when you are in a dire situation. And just like a friend, the sad music soothes and comforts you and eventually brings you out of your situation.
And if science is to be believed, the release of prolactin as a result of the sadness emulated in the low tunes of a sad song is especially beneficial to calm those tensed and pained emotions you experience when you are sad.
The next time you are caught in a sad situation, pick up your earphones and listen to your favorite sad song till you feel better.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adela Belin is a private educator and a writer who shares her teaching experience with colleagues, students, and writers.
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