Recent studies suggest that listening to sad music might help one’s mood by reminding one of belonging.


A vibrant song like Bruno Mars’s “That’s What I Like,” can be scheduled for a party or social gathering.
Like “Anti-Hero” by Taylor Swift, some days demand darker, more relevant tones of music.

Whether it’s hip-hop, country, rock, or jazz, your preferred music can affect your feelings and mental condition.

This is particularly the case when listening to melancholy music. According to Tara Venkatesan, PhD, an operatic soprano and cognitive scientist at Oxford University, listeners might be negatively affected by a number of musical elements, such as pace, mode, instrument selection, and dynamics (Health).

While it’s true that listening to melancholy music can bring on feelings of sadness, a recent study in the Journal of Aesthetic Education—in which Venkatesan participated—indicates that it also has the potential to favorably affect mood and foster feelings of connection.

“Although it may or may not make the listener feel sad, our central argument is that sad music is valuable because of the connection it can forge,” Venkatesan explained. “Listening to sad music is truly wonderful because it creates a sense of connection, rather than just the sadness itself!”
Why Is Sad Music So Popular?
The study’s authors postulated that, similar to how sad chats may evoke a feeling of real connection, sad music would do the same.

According to Venkatesan, it’s normal to feel sad when someone else tells you about a terrible breakup since you can empathies with how distraught and alone they must be feeling. Nonetheless, as the conversation progresses, you may begin to feel a special connection to the other person and a sense of purpose in your exchange.

In two segments, the research team proved that melancholy music may bring people together.

The primary goal of the study was to demonstrate that the capacity to convey one’s feelings is fundamental to music. They described four songs to roughly 400 participants, including:

  • Despite being “technically very flawed,” the song “conveys deep and complex emotions.”
  • A piece of music that “does not convey deep or complex emotions” despite being “technically flawless”
  • An incredibly moving and technically perfect song
  • An emotionally flat and “technically flawed” song
  • People were given the task of rating songs according to how well they represented “what music is all about.”

When asked to evaluate their song selections, participants placed a higher priority on expressiveness of emotion than on technical skill. An extremely high percentage of songs with strong emotional content were selected, regardless of their technical merit.

In the second half of the study, the authors had 450 additional participants rate the degree to which they were emotionally engaged while listening to music or having talks portraying 72 distinct emotions, such as inspiration, love, grief, contempt, etc.

They discovered that the feelings that bring people together in conversation are also the ones that are reflected in the most highly ranked songs when it comes to “what music is all about”: sadness, joy, loneliness, love, and sorrow.

Also, people who took part in the study agreed that melancholy songs about things like despair and suffering aren’t fun to listen to, but that they convey the spirit of music perfectly and lead to meaningful discussions.

“So, regardless of whether we appreciate melancholy music or not, we recognize its value in fostering empathy,” Venkatesan put it.

According to many studies, people listen to sad music just because they enjoy it or their favorite band. Actually, one study from 2014 found that even when people were feeling well, about one-third of them listened to gloomy music.

Can You Feel Sadness Just By Listening to Sad Music?
Health spoke with Shannon Bennett, PhD, site clinical director at New York-Presbyterian’s Centre for Youth Mental Health, on the fact that whether or not sad music makes one feel sad varies on each person and their experience.

An individual may experience melancholy upon hearing a certain music, for instance, if the song evokes a specific memory. Listening to a song that brings back a bad memory could make us feel down because of how strongly our emotions and memories are linked.

The connection between a piece of music and either of those events might evoke a genuine sense of melancholy, as Bennett elucidated. In my opinion, the intensity, duration, and most crucially, the way we choose to respond to that emotion make it a more personal experience.

This is in line with the findings of a 2016 study that indicated listening to depressing music can lead to reliving bad memories or dwelling on unpleasant ideas, thereby perpetuating a negative thought loop.

Listening to music and how we feel about it is an individual and subjective experience.

While it’s true that sad music tends to make people feel sad, Venkatesan pointed out that people’s mental health determines whether sad music evokes other feelings. Grief, melancholia, and sweet sadness were the three primary emotions conveyed by sad music, according to her review of the literature.

She said that sweet sadness and melancholy cover a spectrum of emotions, encompassing not only negative ones like hopelessness but also mixed ones including longing, nostalgia, and even positive ones like comfort and pleasure.

About the connection between music and mental health, Bennett made it obvious that listening to depressing music did not always make one depressed; rather, it could improve one’s mental state.

In addition, she mentioned that listening to music might help with practicing sitting with difficult emotions, which can be emotionally beneficial. “We refer to that as an emotional exposure, and it is actually a component of several highly-respected treatment protocols for helping us face feelings that we might otherwise avoid.”

Similar to how a sincere conversation may bring people together, sad music can do the same, according to Venkatesan. “Listening to sad music probably has good health benefits due to the feeling of connection it gives us.”

Listening to melancholy music may induce a state of “emotional communion” in which the listener feels a connection to the artist or composer through their shared sorrow, according to some research. In this instance, listening to melancholy music may serve as a type of virtual communication that makes people feel welcomed, understood, and less lonely, as Venkatesan explained .

According to her, additional research suggests that listening to melancholy music can aid in mood regulation by bringing us in touch with our inner selves and prompting us to reflect on our personal emotional experiences.

Music, as pointed out by Venkatesan, can influence our mood because of its deep effects on our minds and body.

One indicator of less stress and better regulation in response to a stressor is lower levels of salivary cortisol, and some studies imply that listening to soothing music can do just that.

Like a sad song can make you feel sad, there are methods to make music make you feel happy, as Bennett pointed out. Another method that people might choose to feel good is by engaging in constructive actions.

I think this research will help people just recognize that feeling sad is good and that there are things that we can do to assist us get out of that experience,” Bennett added.