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

Sometimes you want to listen to sad music and cry. This is incredibly human, but why do we do it, and, more importantly, why do we want to? Some research shows that it can be helpful, and sometimes it can worsen things.

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

The researchers then took individuals’ answers and searched for common themes and experiences, either in why they were listening to sad music or how it made them feel.

They identified a consistent structure of reasons and emotions for these experiences. They found that most people listened to sad music to reminisce, 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 are three main types of sorrow people experience, two of which are helpful and one that could 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 your past. This often leads to a positive outcome with and better mood.
  • Sweet Sorrow: This sorrow is similar to comforting grief but associated with more happiness and joy over things that have happened in our past or that we have lost. 
  • Grief-stricken sorrow: This is a genuinely harmful sorrow, a whole experience of the sadness the person is going through. Listening to sad music that leads you into a pit of despair can result in adverse mood changes 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 considered the beauty of an experience or during a period of rest after a rough period.

However, sometimes, sad music makes people feel worse, as in grief-stricken sorrow. The researchers found this was mainly due to the grief-stricken suffering caused by an overwhelming event, such as a funeral or the sudden loss of someone. So while people sought it out for comfort, the negative emotions were too overwhelming and led people to a more hostile place.

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