Music And Health: Do Sad Songs Actually Make Us Happier?

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Why sad songs actually make us feel better | Sally Anscombe via Getty Images

Ever wonder why listening to sad music makes you feel better when you're down in the dumps? A new study by psychologists at the universities of Kent and Limerick may have found the answer.

The research, published in the journal Psychology of Music, investigated the effects of what psychologists deem Self-Identified Sad Music (SISM) on frame of mind. Research especially focused on why people chose particular tunes when feeling blue, and the resulting effects.

The study found several motives driving sad people to choose assorted "sad" pieces. One motive for listening to sad songs was due to the music's being perceived as "beautiful." Researchers found this "beautiful" music offered a direct correlation to mood enhancement. Other motives for song selection included a tune's ability to invoke memories of certain times or events, as well as song message.

Psychologists asked 220 participants to think about a particular sad event they had experienced, and what "sad" music they subsequently listened to and why.

"We found in our research that people's music choice is linked to the individual's own expectations for listening to music and its effects on them," said Dr. Annemieke van den Tol, a lecturer in Social Psychology at Kent's School of Psychology. "The results showed that if an individual has intended to achieve mood enhancement through listening to 'sad' music, this was in fact often achieved by first thinking about their situation or being distracted, rather than directly through listening to the music chosen.

"Indeed, where respondents indicated they had chosen music with the intention of triggering memories, this had a negative impact on creating a better mood. The only selection strategy that was found to directly predict mood enhancement was where the music was perceived by the listener to have high aesthetic value."

A Japanese study published last year in Frontiers of Psychology also looked at why mournful songs might evoke positive emotions, finding that sadness actually feels pleasant when we experience it through art.

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