Many believe that music can evoke true sadness; however, this may not always be the case.
Music that induces sad emotions may bring with it other feelings besides sadness, including:
It Induces Grief and Sorrow
Music can often evoke strong emotional responses beyond its straightforward negative or sad classifications, leading to extensive research on how people experience feelings stimulated by aesthetic contexts like music that defy conventional emotional models.
One such theory is the Kubler-Ross theory, which proposes that those suffering from depression experience five stages of grief and sorrow following a loss or traumatic event such as bereavement of loved one or bereavement of self.
But grief does not follow a steady, linear path; while sadness may help people cope with their feelings, everyone responds differently when experiencing loss; some might experience it through sadness while for others it could simply be the lack of any sentimentality at all.
Music may seem to make us sadder, but studies have actually proven otherwise. Listening to sad music actually helps listeners feel better in their current moods.
This method enables them to focus on positive thoughts instead of dwelling on any negativity they might be feeling, while at the same time safely venting their emotions without risk of hurting either themselves or others.
Grief counseling can be extremely useful for individuals experiencing grief or sorrow, providing a valuable resource to bolster confidence and move past these painful emotions.
Sad music may also provide relief because of prolactin, a hormone released both by men and women when experiencing stress or sadness, that acts as an analgesic to ease these painful emotions by providing relaxation and comfort.
Liila Taruffi and Stefan Koelsch from Berlin’s Free University conducted a fascinating study which demonstrated that people felt happier after listening to sad music compared to before listening. Common feelings include nostalgia, peacefulness and tenderness.
It Induces Depressive Realism
Music can evoke powerful emotional responses and affective states, providing individuals with an invaluable tool to safely experience emotions in a healthy and constructive manner.
Sad mood allows an individual to have lower physiological arousal levels and reflect on their current emotional state while processing information more reflectively and critically, known as “depressive realism” . This mode of processing assists individuals in early grieving processes and recovering from loss by helping them identify the best options available and making more rational decisions.
However, this method of information processing may have negative consequences as those with depressive mood may have a tendency towards rumination – which causes them to focus on negative thoughts and emotions – instead of seeking ways of processing data effectively.
Ruminating can make it hard for individuals to alter their negative thought patterns and can be linked to depression. They struggle with dispelling any negative views about themselves or their past which may have formed and can become overwhelming over time, leading them down a spiraling path that eventually ends with despair.
Music that’s upbeat may cause listeners to think more positively about themselves and less about the past and future.
This could be due to uplifting music’s ability to induce happiness, which helps individuals cope with grief early on. Furthermore, uplifting music can serve as an escape from depressive thoughts and feelings, helping individuals move on with life more smoothly.
Cognitive psychology and neuroscience research has demonstrated that people can appreciate sadness through fictional stimuli (such as music, films or poems read aloud), which involve strong interplays between feelings of being Moved which can be translated to deep connection and communion and enjoyment of what one hears or sees – as well as feelings of Pleasure that come from fictional stimuli like sad music, films or poems read aloud.
Experience has shown that music can be an especially strong form of enjoyment for people who empathise strongly, as it elicits feelings of empathy and emotional contagion at both conscious and subconscious levels. These effects are amplified when the music contains elements of sadness evoking similar emotional responses in listeners.
It Induces Rumination
Listening to sad music often causes listeners to reflect upon their past experiences, leading them down the road toward depression. Rumination may result in negative thoughts and memories being created which may become difficult to let go.
Rumination doesn’t always have to be destructive; some forms may be beneficial, such as reflecting on positive things or listening to music to strengthen social bonds or boost mood. This type of reflection, known as adaptive coping, can help manage emotions more effectively.
Stress relief through drawing is also a valuable way to strengthen relationships and manage anger.
But one type of rumination is particularly perilous: Ruminating. This term refers to people spending too much time thinking about a problem or feeling instead of taking steps towards solutions.
People struggling with their relationships or an event that’s giving them trouble may think negatively and create more distress instead of alleviating it. Such thoughts only exacerbate depression rather than dispelling it.
Happily, listening to happy music can help to stave off this form of rumination. By choosing songs with positive messages or songs that elicit feelings of happiness in yourself personally or writing down what makes you smile directly onto a notecard, listening can become therapeutic practice and help reduce negative thinking patterns.
Teenagers, in particular, may benefit from this strategy to combat negative emotions and ruminate on their problems. Teens may listen to songs that make them sad and think about being alone forever while listening to upbeat tunes might make them think about finding love instead.
Depression risk individuals may be particularly vulnerable to these strategies, according to one study that revealed young people prone to rumination are more likely to use sad music as a way of channeling their sadness into focus, which could worsen symptoms of depression and worsen symptoms of distress.
Although this cross-sectional study may seem useful, it should only be seen as an initial point for further exploration. There could be many confounding variables affecting its results and because this research wasn’t conducted under experimental conditions it’s hard to establish causal links.
It Induces Pleasure
One of the more intriguing questions in music scholarship is why so many listen to sad music. Music stands out among art forms in its ability to elicit various emotions and is particularly captivating when dealing with sorrow and loss.
Sadness may often be perceived as negative emotion; however, its experience may actually be pleasant (Taruffi and Koelsch; Juslin and Vastfjall). This phenomenon has come to be known as the ‘happiness paradox”.
Sad music appears to elicit pleasure through an impactful combination of negative emotional states spreading and aesthetic judgement mechanisms that create a pleasurable response (Taruffi and Koelsch; Levinson). Furthermore, studies suggest that positive emotions can be amplified through deliberate savoring (Juslin and Vastfjall), possibly explaining why sad music provides such a high dose of pleasure when consumed.
Growing evidence supports the hypothesis that musical sadness has the power to stimulate reflection on meaning and significance in human experience. Scholars such as Menninghaus have offered explanations as to why so many enjoy experiencing music-induced sadness (see section 3.1 for further discussion).
However, the exact mechanism through which sad music brings enjoyment remains obscure. Neuroimaging studies to examine neural correlates of music-induced emotions are necessary steps in decoding this process.
Sad music may bring pleasure because of its power to correct homeostatic imbalances (Zatorre & Salimpoor, 2013). For this to occur, an individual must be experiencing distress or experiencing some sort of imbalance.
Additionally, an individual must be able to detach themselves from distressing situations and focus on the beauty of music – this will allow their homeostatic balance to be corrected and their mood to improve.
Huron and Meyer  propose various theories to explain the link between music and pleasure on various levels – biological, psychological and cultural. These include Huron’s ideas as well as Meyer’s .