Feeling Blue? 'Beautiful But Sad' Songs Can Improve Your Mood, Study Finds

By Josh Lieberman on February 20, 2014 6:11 PM EST

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If you're feeling sad, let Leonard Cohen take you to a better place. (Photo: Reuters)

Beautiful, sad music can help improve your mood when you're feeling down, according to English researchers (and pretty much anyone who's ever been sad before). In a study published in the journal Psychology of Music, scientists asked 220 people about sad events in their lives, what music they listened to afterwards and how they felt about it. The researchers found that songs that a participant considered "sad" didn't improve his or her mood, but a song considered "beautiful but sad" did do the trick.

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"It was self-identified sad music, so it was music they chose themselves," said study author Annemieke van den Tol of the University of Kent. "Two common examples were 'Hurt' by Johnny Cash and 'Hallelujah' by Jeff Buckley--the Leonard Cohen cover....There were some people who selected the music mainly because they had a memory about it. It was often a memory of a person or of an event."

Listening to music with the goal of triggering memories "had a negative impact on creating a better mood," van den Tol said. Rather, a listener had a better chance of improving his mood by thinking about his situation and being distracted while listening to music--not trying to force it by picking sad music to trigger emotions, in other words.

"The selection of music with perceived high aesthetic value was the only music selection strategy that directly predicted mood enhancement," the researchers wrote. Study participants who said that they listened to music while sad "to experience the beauty of the sad songs" were the ones who saw their moods improve.

The researchers' findings are in line with other studies which have explored the link between being sad and listening to sad music. In one study published last year in the Journal of Consumer Research, participants asked to recall experiences involving a personal loss (losing a friend) showed a significantly higher preference for listening to sad music than those experiencing an impersonal loss (losing a competition). "Consumers seek and experience emotional companionship with music, films, novels and the fine arts as a substitute for lost and troubled relationships," the authors of that study concluded.

For further proof that listening to a sad song can feel oh-so-good, look no further than the recent viral video (embedded below) in which a crying 4-year-old asks his father not to turn off the sad music they're listening to.

"If it makes you cry, then I don't want to play a sad song for you," the father says to his sobbing child. "Give me a thumbs up that you're okay."

The boy gives him two thumbs up .

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