Study: Should You Listen to Sad Music When You’re Sad?

Sometimes you just want to listen to sad music and have a good cry. This is an incredibly human thing to do, but why do we do it and, more importantly, why do we want to? Some research is showing that it can be helpful, and actually sometimes it can make things worse.

In a paper published in PLOS One, researchers Tuomas Eerola and Henna-Riikka Peltola from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland sought to answer these questions.

In the study entitled “Memorable Experiences with Sad Music— Reasons, Reactions and Mechanisms of Three Types of Experiences,” the researchers had over 2000 people fill out a survey about their experiences of listening to sad music.

The researchers then took individuals answers and searched for common themes and experiences individuals had either in why they were listening to sad music or how it ended up making them feel.

They found a consistent structure of reasons and emotions for these experiences was identified. They found that most people listened to sad music so they could reminisce about the past, experience it with the beauty of music, and seek comfort.

They found that listening to sad music would then lead to a feeling of sorrow. There three main types of sorrow people experienced, two of which were helpful and one that could actually make things worse.

Three Kinds of Sorrow Produced When Listening to Sad Music:

  • Comforting Sorrow: Remembering something you have lost and these memories filling you with a sense of tenderness and happiness about things in our past. This often leads to a positive outcome with and better mood.
  • Sweet Sorrow: This sorrow is similar to comforting sorrow but associated with more happiness and even joy over things that have happened in our past or things we have lost. 
  • Grief-stricken sorrow: This is a genuinely negative sorrow, a full experience of the sadness the person is going through.  Listening to sad music that leads you into a pit of despair can result in negative changes in mood afterward.

In most circumstances, experiencing sorrow brought on by music would then lead to a positive change in mood afterward, as in both the comforting and sweet sorrow circumstances. These were mainly in situations where someone was considering the beauty of an experience or during a period of rest after a rough period in their life.

However, there were times where listening to sad music actually made people feel worse, as in the grief-stricken sorrow. The researchers found this was mainly due to the reason for the grief-stricken sorrow, with it being caused by an overwhelming event, such a funeral or a sudden loss of someone. So while people sought it out for comfort, the negative emotions were too overwhelming and led people to a more negative place.

Given this research, it is a good idea to consider what state you are in before you throw on your latest favorite tear-jerker and have a good cry.