You Listen to That Sad Song Because It Makes You Happy

New research shows that sad songs actually create positive emotions.
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(PHOTO: STUART MONK/SHUTTERSTOCK)

(PHOTO: STUART MONK/SHUTTERSTOCK)

If sad songs are just so damn sad, why do we keep listening to them?

According to a new study, it’s because, in fact, sad songs create positive emotions. Researchers at the Tokyo University of the Arts and the RIKEN Brain Institute had 44 participants listen to different musical excerpts and then choose from 62 emotional words to describe their feelings. Overall, the songs were rated a higher status of “perceived” sadness than actual sadness—meaning, participants thought the songs were a lot sadder than they actually were. Music that was deemed sad made participants feel somewhat upset, but mainly produced romantic and inspired emotions. Common descriptive words were: allured, wistful, nostalgic, and tender. And it’s these emotions that help us get over the more unpleasant ones.

This makes sense, because otherwise listening to sad music would just be self-torture (we already know it’s not completely our fault if we burst into tears at a note. Science!). So listening to the sad stuff is a good thing—consider it iPod therapy. After all, the study states, “Emotion experienced by music has no direct danger or harm unlike the emotion experienced in everyday life. If we suffer from unpleasant emotion evoked through daily life, sad music might be helpful to alleviate negative emotion.”

Participants in the study were moved by classical music, but there are plenty of songs in other genres that are good to wallow in—er, I mean, utilize in your more miserable moments. So here is a by-no-means-definitive playlist of sad tunes to get you over the hump:

1. “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” Bonnie Raitt

OK, this song is cheesy, but still, it’s just so sad. The video is even in black and white. And what’s more tormenting than unrequited love? SO SAD. Bon Iver and Adele try, but they just can’t touch Bonnie.

2. “Skinny Love,”Bon Iver

When he’s not covering Bonnie, Bon Iver is writing his own sad, sad songs. “Skinny Love” is a gateway to them all. This is alone-in-your-room, looking-at-clouds, wearing-flannel sad.

3. “Atlantic City,”Bruce Springsteen

Struggling-in-a-wayward America sad.

4. “These Arms of Mine,” Otis Redding

Classic sad.

5. “Have You Ever,” Brandy

This is secretly-singing-in-your-car sad. In the video she’s rolling around in a tuxedo. Was that his tuxedo? Probably, and that’s just sad.

6. “Sorrow,” The National

Singer Matt Berninger barely gets a note out before I feel like crying, his voice is just like that. Plus, the song’s called “Sorrow.”

7.  “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” Bob Dylan

Love-just-doesn’t-work-out-sometimes sad.

8. “River,” Joni Mitchell

Almost everything from the Blue album could be on this list.

9. “Rivers and Roads,” The Head and the Heart

This is moving-away-from-everyone-you-care-about sad.

10. “Cry Me a River,”Justin Timberlake

It’s a sad song, but it’s by JT. You can kind of dance to it. Can’t stay sad forever, right?

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