“Sad music” is helpful when you’re sad?

You might reasonably assume that when you’re sad, put on ‘happy’ music to cheer yourself up. Sousa marches, for example.

But a 2019 study1 suggests otherwise: “The strong appeal of sad music to people with MDD [Major Depressive Disorder] may be related to its calming effects rather than any desire to increase or maintain sad feelings.”2

In dark periods of my life I have played music (Bach especially) sometimes for hours at a stretch as a way of modulating feelings that felt overwhelming, and the music that ‘felt right’ was in the minor key and dark in general. Doing that was very helpful. As I think about it, what that accomplished was that those feelings no longer felt overwhelming. It’s as if the music gave voice — and also structure to what I was feeling. Instead of trying to deny or paper over sadness with happy music, it it created a safe container for those feelings, a place where those feelings were embraced and even honored.

I had never considered that sad and dark music could play a positive and even an essential role in our emotional well-being.

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  1. Yoon, S., Verona, E., Schlauch, R., Schneider, S., & Rottenberg, J. (2019). Why do depressed people prefer sad music? Emotion. https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Femo0000573
  2. From the abstract.

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