When Joshua Knobe was younger, he knew an indie rock musician who sang sorrowful, “heart-rending things that made people feel terrible,” he recalled recently. At one point he came across a YouTube video, set to her music, that had a suicidal motif. “That was the theme of her music,” he said, adding, “So I had this sense of puzzlement by it, because I also felt like it had this tremendous value.”
This is the paradox of sad music: We generally don’t enjoy being sad in real life, but we do enjoy art that makes us feel that way. Countless scholars since Aristotle have tried to account for it. Maybe we experience a catharsis of negative emotions through music. Maybe there’s an evolutionary advantage in it, or maybe we’re socially conditioned to appreciate our own suffering. Maybe our bodies produce hormones in response to the fragmentary malaise of the music, creating a feeling of consolation.
The Reason People Listen to Sad Songs
It’s not because they make us sad but because they help us feel connected, a new study suggests.
from the comments:
I’ve always attributed the mood improvement I get when listening to sad songs to some kind of homeopathic response. Like a vaccine, a small dose of sadness immunizes against profound sadness. I find it a powerful effect
Melancholy songs are the closest thing to traveling back in time.
The whole thing when you are sad is that you feel like you are the only one in the world that feels that way. Hearing sad music shows you that you are not the only one and a good song writer can put a positive spin on the whole thing. The idea that there is someone out there who has empathy for the rotten way you feel is uplifting. I’ve experienced this with multiple genres of music from country, folk, and blues to jazz, classical, baroque and renaissance so it’s not a new idea by any stretch of the imagination. Hurtin’ music has no boundaries.
Sad songs do two important things: they put to words feelings one might have been unable to verbalize and they remind us that we are not alone in our sorrow.