Some songs seem to resonate deep inside you. You don’t know why and you don’t know how, but every core of your being tells you that this song was made just for you.
Even with all the dangers that depression poses to our lives, we seem unabashedly drawn to sad songs. You feel the sadness coursing through you. Your eyes well up as you feel the pain the artist is expressing. All the experiences you’ve ever had that relate to the song spring quickly to your mind. This song was made just for you.
Why are we so drawn to depressing music?
Music has always been an integral part of human culture. Particular sounds – even the basic humming of a song – arouse our curiosity and activate our pleasure centers. Everything about life is about rhythm. Our hearts move to a particular beat. We walk to a particular rhythm. Even the birds gliding together in the sky seem to be moving to a particular rhythm. They are the unnoticed songs of our lives.
But with a wide variety of music that we can choose from, why do we seem extremely drawn to sad songs?
A study published in 2013 on Interpersonal Relationships and Preferences for Mood-Congruency in Aesthetic Experiences by Chan Jean Lee, Eduardo B. Andrade, and Stephen E. Palmer said that the songs we choose to listen to are influenced by our most recent life experiences.
In another part of the world, researchers from the Freie Universität Berlin, Germany, concluded in their journal that sad music comforts us and acts as a coping mechanism during trying times. In her interview on Today Health, one of the researchers, Liila Taruffi, said that sad music has the “potential to regulate negative moods and emotions, as well as to provide consolation… In this sense, sad music can play a role in well-being.” She also pointed out that sometimes we listen to sad music for “pleasure”.
This positive effect conclusion was also reached by researchers from the Tokyo University of the Arts and the RIKEN Brain Science Institute, Japan. In their published study in the Frontiers in Psychology journal, the consensus was that “Emotion experienced by music has no direct danger or harm unlike the emotion experienced in everyday life. Therefore, we can even enjoy unpleasant emotion such as sadness.”
Another study by researchers in the University of Kent and Limerick found that sad music improved people’s moods especially if the song was held in high aesthetic regard. Dr Annemieke van den Tol explained that “people’s music choice is linked to the individual’s own expectations for listening to music and its effects on them.”
Despite this glowing praise for depressing music – and the fact that we are the ones who choose to listen to it – is it possible that it has the potential to affect our health negatively? Unfortunately, Yes!
Potential Danger of Listening to Depressing Music
As we have said in past articles here and here, depression isn’t something that strikes you overnight. It is an insidious threat; slowly getting more and more power over your life until you feel overwhelmed. So why would you risk feeding such a dangerous adversary?
Dr. Brian Primark, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Health and Society in the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences and Director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health, undertook a study on the effect of music on teens. He concludes that, “It is not clear whether depressed people begin to listen to more music to escape, or whether listening to large amounts of music can lead to depression, or both.
In the above quote he does not specify whether depressing music causes depression. He merely states that listening to music for long hours can cause depression. Very interesting.
But in the next quote he seems to draw the same conclusions as those from the researchers mentioned above:
“Sadness is a common theme in popular music, and it may be that individuals with depression turn to these messages to make themselves feel less alone in their sadness. Conversely, it may also be that individuals with MDD (Major Depressive Disorder) turn to happy music to ‘tune out’ their negative moods or to elevate their moods.”
We tend to become what we normally feed our minds and what we repeatedly do. If we continually listen to dark and depressing music, this constant state of sadness, re enacting negative experiences and ruminating about our failures can turn into depression.
It is a fine line between allowing ourselves to feel pain and sadness in order to let it go, and actually letting sadness become our state of being. Those who already have a genetic disposition toward depression are even at greater risk.
Even though people use depressing music as an escape from their actual pain, it still holds sway over their feelings and emotions. Once the emotions get raw and intense, it can lead to other negative feelings of guilt, self-pity, anger and feeling unloved. Remember, depression takes over slowly.
So yet again, why would you risk feeding such a dangerous adversary? Is the pleasure you derive from the beautiful but depressing song worth the potential danger that it poses to your health? Does our desire to temporarily allow ourselves to feel sad enable us to cope with our feelings or are we slowly and slowly plunging ourselves into the clutches of depression?
We are using music to escape from our lives. We are trying to avoid facing the reality that we are in pain because of a negative experience that we have gone through. Feeding that pain and searing our hearts with the sad emotions that ensue when we listen to depressing music can alter the brain chemistry. Once the brain is affected, then we are already treading on a dangerous path. The question you need to ask yourself is, “Is it worth it?”.
Even as we come to terms with the potential pitfalls of music, we must still pay homage to something that is part of our being; something that moves us and inspires us to the greatest ideals in living. Friedrich Nietzsche put it best when he said, “Without music, life would be a mistake”.