MusicScience & Tech

Healing, Happy, and Heartbroken: How Music Affects Our Emotions

Music has a strange and confusing way of making us feel better. When we’re at a party, we want to hear music that matches our playful and carefree energy so that we can enliven the atmosphere even more. But when we’re suffering through a breakup, we want to hear music that puts words to our pain and is deeply depressing so that we can… what exactly? Ruminate on our horrible situation and bask in our heartbreak? I never understood why we preferred listening to sad music when we’re going through a difficult time. This is one of the many paradoxes pertaining to how music affects our emotions.

Healing, Happy, and Heartbroken: How Music Affects Our Emotions

Seeking Comfort in Sad Music

Turns out, there’s a reason why people are drawn to sad music. According to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, people prefer mood-congruent
aesthetic stimuli
rather than mood-incongruent ones. In other words, people would rather hear a song that matches their mood over one that does not. The study found that listening to a sad song while you’re feeling sad has the same effect as disclosing your sadness to a friend and receiving their empathic support. Further, the study showed that people prefer mood-congruent aesthetic experiences when the sadness a person is experiencing stems from a failing relationship, rather than an event that is not interpersonal. According to this research, if you’re feeling sad and there isn’t anyone around to talk to, you may simulate the experience of venting to a friend and feeling understood by listening to a sad song.

Healing, Happy, and Heartbroken: How Music Affects Our Emotions

Boosting Your Happiness

Another study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology explored the effects of listening to positive music to boost your level of happiness. The study showed that listening to upbeat music does help improve your mood, especially when it’s combined with a desire to be happier. In this study, participants that consciously tried to boost their mood while listening to music reported higher degree of positive mood than participants who listened to music without trying to boost their mood. So start your day with an upbeat tune and an intention to be happy and try it out for yourself!

Healing, Happy, and Heartbroken: How Music Affects Our Emotions

Staying Focused and Relaxed

As cognitive scientist Dr. Paul Thagard puts it, “It does not matter whether a song is happy or sad, only whether it has an emotional impact on the listeners.” Unfortunately, some emotions can pose a distraction while we are trying to focus. If you want to optimize your productivity while you’re doing work, listening to certain songs may help. Songs that don’t have any lyrics and have a specific tempo work best. 

Choose a song that you are neither strongly like nor dislike as this could cause distraction. Be sure to play the song at medium volume as well. If you feel like you need to unwind, songs that contain harmonic intervals, or gaps between notes, create feelings of relaxation  specifically euphoria and comfort. Songs that don’t have a repeating melody are ideal for relaxation because they allow your brain to completely “switch off” since you’re not trying to predict what will come next. Low-pitched hums and chants work to put you in a trance-like state.

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Music gives us the option to seek comfort in an artform rather than a person every once in awhile. It intensifies our memories and enhances our emotions, the good and the bad. It allows us to escape when we feel like letting go and feeling nothing at all. And with free streaming websites like YouTube and Soundcloud, we can all easily access music to improve our psychological health and make us feel better, if only for a few minutes at a time.

Header Image Source: Reflexions

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Healing, Happy, and Heartbroken: How Music Affects Our Emotions