Sad music can evoke intense emotions and create a cathartic experience, allowing listeners to process and release their own sadness or grief. Some individuals may find comfort and a sense of connection through the empathetic nature of sad music, leading to a sense of happiness or emotional release.
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Sad music has a peculiar way of evoking emotions and often surprising us with its ability to make us feel happy. The bittersweet melodies and melancholic lyrics can elicit a range of intense emotions, leading to a cathartic experience that allows listeners to process and release their own sadness or grief. While the question of why sad music makes us happy may seem contradictory, it can be explained by the following factors:
Emotional release and catharsis: Listening to sad music provides an outlet for our own emotions and can act as a form of emotional release. It allows us to connect with the universal human experience of heartbreak, loss, or longing, and in turn, helps us process our own feelings. As author Nick Hornby states, “What came first—the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands—literally thousands—of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss.”
Empathy and connection: Sad music often contains poignant lyrics and haunting melodies that invite listeners to empathize with the artist’s emotions. This feeling of connection with the music and its creators can provide solace and a sense of companionship. Studies have shown that experiencing empathy through music enhances feelings of well-being and can even lead to a sense of happiness. Singer Pharrell Williams explained this phenomenon beautifully when he said, “The human experience is filled with many emotions—sadness, anger, joy, and so forth—and music has the ability to capture and convey all of them, creating a shared experience.”
Nostalgia and reflection: Sad music has a way of triggering nostalgic memories and encouraging self-reflection. It can transport us back to a specific time in our lives, evoking a mix of emotions associated with that period. Reflecting on past experiences, even the melancholic ones, can bring a sense of comfort and growth. As author John Green once wrote, “That’s the thing about pain—it demands to be felt. And often, sad music is the perfect vessel for revisiting poignant memories or contemplating one’s own journey.”
Musical complexity and beauty: Sad music often showcases intricate melodies, rich harmonies, and emotionally charged lyrics. Its depth and complexity can be intellectually stimulating, providing a sense of appreciation for the artistry involved. The beauty found within sad songs can elevate our mood and provide a sense of happiness through aesthetic enjoyment. As composer Ludwig van Beethoven once said, “Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.” The emotional complexity of sad music exemplifies the transformative power of this art form.
Table: Famous Sad Songs and Their Impact
|“Hurt”||Johnny Cash||2002||Highlights the fragility of the human experience and offers a sense of introspection and resilience.|
|“Yesterday”||The Beatles||1965||Reflects on lost love and nostalgia, allowing listeners to connect with feelings of longing and personal reflection.|
|“Tears in Heaven”||Eric Clapton||1992||Written as a tribute to Clapton’s late son, this song explores grief and loss, resonating with audiences who have experienced similar pain.|
|“Someone Like You”||Adele||2011||Empathetic lyrics about heartbreak and moving on that create a sense of connection and emotional release.|
|“Hallelujah”||Leonard Cohen||1984||A poignant exploration of love, loss, and spirituality; offers a cathartic experience through its powerful lyrics and haunting melody.|
While the concept of sad music making us happy may initially seem counterintuitive, it is the interplay between emotions, empathy, and reflection that allows these songs to resonate deeply and ultimately bring about a sense of happiness. As Friedrich Nietzsche famously stated, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” Indeed, sad music’s ability to evoke intense emotions, provide solace and connection, and invite reflection makes it an essential part of the human experience.
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In a discussion between Sam and Neil, Professor David Huron’s theory on why some people like sad music more than others was mentioned. According to the professor from Ohio State University, the hormone prolactin produces a comforting effect that makes people who enjoy sad music receive an excess amount of it, while those who do not like it enough are not receiving enough of it. The hosts also define some new vocabulary words such as “comforting” and “can’t stand” before concluding the episode by thanking their listeners and promoting the various platforms to find more content from the BBC Learning English team.
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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.
Sad music can make you happy because it triggers a hormonal response that induces feelings of comfort, warmth, and mild pleasure. The hormone prolactin, which helps to curb grief, is linked to melancholy music. Even fictional sadness can trigger this response, which is intended to soften the mental pain involved in real loss. Sad music brings up a host of complex but positive emotions, providing consolation as well as regulating negative moods and emotions.
Some scientists think melancholy music is linked to the hormone prolactin, a chemical which helps to curb grief. The body is essentially preparing itself to adapt to a traumatic event, and when that event doesn’t happen, the body is left with a pleasurable mix of opiates with nowhere else to go.
A recent theory proposes that even a fictional sadness is enough to fool our body to trigger such an endocrine response, intended to soften the mental pain involved in real loss. This response is driven by hormones such as oxytocin and prolactin, which actually induce the feelings of comfort, warmth and mild pleasure in us.
As for why that may be, several other studies found that listening to sad music can raise levels of the hormone prolactin, which produces “a consoling psychological effect.” The most common conclusion, however, comes down to emotion itself, particularly nostalgia.
"Music-evoked sadness…plays a role in well-being, by providing consolation as well as by regulating negative moods and emotions," the study concludes. In other words, sad music brings up a host of complex but positive emotions, according to Taruffi and Koelsch.
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A key reason we enjoy sad songs is because they profoundly “move” us. This experience is sometimes called kama muta, a Sanskrit term meaning “moved by love.” Feeling moved can involve chills, goosebumps, a flood of emotions (including romantic ones), a warmth in our chest, and elation.