Can listening to sad songs make you happy?

We’ve all been through that one big breakup where we spent weeks crying ourselves to sleep and blasting the most tragic songs on our earphones or airpods! We’ve all experienced the sense of calm that listening to sad songs gives us, the sense of closure and relatability. So if you’re also wondering how such tragic lyrics can make you happy, you’re not alone!

Health Shots contacted Dr Imran Noorani, consultant psychologist at Child Development Center Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi, to understand whether sad songs can actually make us happy.

He says, “Yes, sad songs can give someone a feeling of happiness or relief. This phenomenon is known as the ‘paradox of the sad song’.”

Can listening to sad songs make us feel good?

The world knows that listening to music has benefits. But what about sad songs?

A study was conducted by scientists Liila Taruffi and Stefan Koelsch from the Free University of Berlin to understand how sad songs make us feel. They asked participants to write down their feelings when they heard sad music. The list included feelings like “nostalgia,” “peacefulness,” and “tenderness,” all feelings of calm rather than unease. Dr. Noorani says there are many ways a sad song can make you feel better.

1. Catharsis

Listening to sad music can serve as a form of emotional release or catharsis. It allows the listener to process and express their own grief in a controlled environment. This can lead to a feeling of relief and even a feeling of lightness afterwards.

2. Empathy and understanding

Sad songs often contain lyrics and melodies that resonate with the listener’s own experiences and emotions. This sense of understanding and connection can lead to a sense of comfort and, in turn, a shift toward a more positive emotional state.

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  • Aesthetic appreciation: Some people find beauty in sad music and appreciate the artistry and emotional depth involved in its creation. This aesthetic appreciation can evoke a feeling of joy or satisfaction.
  • Transcendence: There is a concept called tragic pleasure, where people find a certain pleasure or beauty in experiencing sadness from a safe distance, knowing that it is a temporary and controlled emotional experience.
  • Enhanced Emotional Complexity: Experiencing sadness through music can contribute to a broader emotional range and a deeper experience. This increased emotional complexity can lead to a greater overall sense of fulfillment and well-being.
Music therapy can help people cope with trauma and grief. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

What are the benefits of music therapy for mental health?

Music therapy offers a range of physical, emotional and cognitive benefits. Here are some of the top benefits of music and why listening to sad songs can be good.

  • Music helps with emotional expression and regulation: Music provides a non-verbal means of expressing and processing emotions.
  • Stress reduction and relaxation: Listening to or playing music can activate the relaxation response, reducing stress and anxiety levels.
  • Improved mood and emotional well-being: Music can stimulate the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and endorphins, leading to a better mood and a feeling of pleasure.
  • Improved cognitive function: Engaging with music can improve cognitive skills such as memory, attention and problem solving. It may also be beneficial for people with neurocognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Physical rehabilitation: Music therapy can be used to support physical rehabilitation efforts. Rhythmic elements in music can help with movement coordination and motor skills.
  • Social connection and communication: Group music activities promote social interaction, collaboration and communication skills. This is especially valuable for people who have difficulty with social interactions.
  • Building self-esteem and self-confidence: Successfully creating or performing music can increase one’s self-esteem and confidence.
  • Pain Management: Music therapy has been shown to reduce pain perception and the need for pain medication in some individuals.
  • Creative expression and artistic outlet: Music therapy provides an opportunity for creative expression, allowing individuals to explore and develop their artistic skills.
  • Dealing with trauma and grief: Music therapy can be a powerful tool in helping individuals process and cope with traumatic experiences or grief.
  • Improved quality of life in chronic conditions: Music therapy has shown positive effects in people with chronic conditions such as cancer, heart disease and chronic pain.
  • Cultural and spiritual connection: Music can be deeply connected to cultural and spiritual practices, providing individuals with a means to connect with their heritage and beliefs.

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