Lady Gaga © FRANCK ROBICHON/epa/Corbis
Lady Gaga © FRANCK ROBICHON/epa/Corbis

Sad music makes people happy

Contrary to what one might think, sad music has a positive effect on our mood, as demonstrated in the study recently published by researchers Liila Taruffi and Stefan Koelsch from the Free University of Berlin.

Why do we often want to listen to sad music, if we’re supposed to do everything we can to avoid sadness? That is the question which has led to a recent study published online by Liila Taruffi and Stefan Koelsch, two researchers from the Free University of Berlin. Quite simply, it is because music-evoked sadness has a positive effect on our psychological health. This is the conclusion of an online survey with 772 participants – 408 participants grew up in Europe while 364 were from Asia, America, Australia etc.; the participants were of all age groups. According to them, sad music fuels their imagination ( “I imagine I have the same rich expressive ability as present in the music”), it regulates emotions (“Experiencing sadness through music makes me feel better after listening to it, and thus has a positive impact on my emotional well-being”) and it arouses empathy (“I like to empathise with the sadness expressed in the music, as if it were another individual”); for some, sad music has no “real-life” implications, because it lacks context, so people feel "disconnected from everyday life" (“I can enjoy the pure feeling of sadness in a balanced fashion, neither too violent, nor as intense as in real-life”).

Beautiful, sad songs for crying

Among the almost 300 most mentioned sad songs, there are pieces of classical music (of course), but also pop or rock music, film soundtracks or jazz. Fade to black by Metallica, Someone like you by Adele, Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven or the soundtrack from Schindler's List by John Williams go hand in hand with Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder, Gorecki's Symphony No. 3 and Beethoven’s Für Elise; however, first place goes to Dido's Lament by Purcell, Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, the Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven, the Adagio in G minor by Albinoni, Beethoven’s 7th Symphony - 2nd movement and Satie's 3rd Gymnopedie.

Feeling a little blue? If you want to get better, you should try harder: according to the results of the study, the Aristotelian theory of catharsis and the relaxing effect of sad music help you improve your mood.

Among the feelings aroused by sad music, nostalgia, peacefulness and tenderness are the most commonly cited; they’re quite positive, aren’t they? Most answers covered many emotions at the same time, which could prove that the effect of sad music can be more complex than one might even think.

According to the authors of the study, the relaxing and cathartic effects of sad music may have significant implications for music therapy.