Why Do We Listen To Sad Music When We Are Hurting?

Why Do We Listen To Sad Music When We Are Hurting?

Music has often been referred to as the “language of the soul” and a “universal language” which is extremely appropriate to its function. It goes beyond traditional barriers to unite people and find relatedness even in diversity, which explains why we sometimes listen to and enjoy songs in languages we might not fully understand. While research has shown a wide variety of uses of music in relation to processes like attention and memory, it has also been found that the emotional power of music is one of the main motivators for people to create and spend heaps of time with it. Today, the ability of music to guide emotion and reduce distress also finds its application in music therapy by using musical interventions for emotional disorders. Studies also show that music can be helpful in influencing our stress response and reducing anxiety. In recent years, the concept of paradoxical pleasure produced by indulging in negative emotions has come to the limelight. It so happens that after listening to a sad song or heartbreaker, your mood actually seems to be better by the time the song ends. This means that even though emotions like anger and sadness are “negative” emotions, we gain some kind of aesthetic pleasure and enjoyment by indulging in them. It is paradoxical because while most people would go out of their way to actively avoid feelings of grief, loss and sadness, we often turn to forms of art such as music, poetry, etc. which articulate these emotions and find profound happiness in them. Today, musical cues for hurt and pain are not only depicted in the lyrics of the song but also through a slower tempo and rhythm, lower pitch and lesser energy.

People like to listen to sad music especially after the beginning of a negative mood. Research has found that one of the main reasons why people listen to sad music when they are already hurting is because they experience some kind of connection; either to the lyrics, melody, or emotions expressed through the song. While humans experience a vast range of emotions, it is a common phenomenon for most of them to go unexpressed. This is when people search for meaning of the feelings and thoughts they are unable to articulate in songs, and once they immediately relate to them, the experience of listening to it becomes enjoyable for them. Having someone, even if it is a stranger, understand and go through similar emotions is enough to seek identification and make you feel less alone in whatever you are going through. This prospect can be very comforting for many people who find it difficult to voice their feelings to others. For many, sad songs are often associated with a person, place or experience from the past. While this could range from high school days, a break up or death of a significant person, it is found that it can be a powerful trigger for what is gone. Many people choose to listen to music revolving around such pivotal experiences in their lives because it helps them to better understand their own emotions. Doing this can also serve as a reflective process on the past which can be helpful, especially when people seem to gauge how far they have come and the growth they have experienced since the incident. It can also resurface bitter- sweet memories in recollection of the good times in the experience. Subsequently, research has also found that if we have a favourite song over a long period of time, it is likely to be associated with intense emotional events in our life.

In addition to all of this, listening to sad music when we are already hurting triggers psychological processes that are so rewarding and pleasurable that they are almost cathartic. Just like the relief experienced at the end of a good cry due to a chemical response, hormones such as prolactin and oxytocin are released, which help to curb grief, while increasing the feeling of calmness and comfort in the body and reducing the level of mental distress that we feel. Being able to release pent up emotions while being moved by the music can prove to be a very gratifying affair. It also helps us to distinguish between the actual sadness we feel and the hurt expressed in the song, eventually enabling us to remove our own emotions out of the equation while focusing on the sentiments expressed in the music, and this disengagement is what makes people feel better. While the impact of music on our brain is still something that neuroscientists are trying to decode, there is enough evidence to show that being intentionally emotionally immersed in sorrowful songs when you are feeling blue is helpful in improving your mood. Blasting sad songs when you are down in the dumps is actually an important way to cope with low- spirited feelings, and will probably be a good outlet for your emotions in the future. 

About the Author

Nishtha Gugnani
Third Year Bachelor of Arts (Psychology) student.

A final year undergraduate student with a demonstrated history of working with mental health organisations and in clini

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