Can listening to sad music make you happier?

New study looks at the surprising role listening to sad music could play in improving your emotional well-being.

Anthony Domanico
CNET freelancer Anthony Domanico is passionate about all kinds of gadgets and apps. When not making words for the Internet, he can be found watching Star Wars or "Doctor Who" for like the zillionth time. His other car is a Tardis.
Anthony Domanico
2 min read

When we're feeling bummed, many of us listen to sad music that matches our melancholy. But contrary to popular belief that sad music makes us feel sad (or, sadder as the case may be), a new study suggests it might actually lift our spirits.

The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE, an open-access, peer-reviewed journal from the Public Library of Science. Co-authors Liila Taruffi and Stefan Koelsch of the Free University of Berlin surveyed 722 people from around the world, and concluded that listening to sad music has a significant positive effect on emotional well-being.

Sad music, like the "Midnight Sonata" by Beethoven, could help you through troubled times, a new study reports. Wikimedia Commons

"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. The most commonly reported emotional response to sad music is nostalgia, a (typically) happy, sentimental longing for a particular time or place. Respondents also reported positive feelings of wonder, transcendence, peacefulness and tenderness when listening to sad music, and often felt at least three of these emotional responses each time they listened.

The study's authors point out that sad music can actually help us work through a particular issue because sad music triggers our imagination, which helps us come up with creative ways to shake the blues.

The study also discusses the role music therapy can play in helping improve emotional well-being. Emotionally unstable people in particular may benefit from sad music therapy, according to the study. These people tend to use music to regulate their emotions, so the emotional benefits of sad music are typically intensified the more unstable a person is.

So the next time you're struggling with something sad in your life, grab your headphones, put on Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" (a favorite sad song among the 722 survey respondents) and work through whatever's troubling you. Odds are, you'll come out of it in a much better place than when you went in.

To read the entire study, head over to PLOS ONE.

(Via Pacific Standard)