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Art is probably best defined by a certain ability it has that is as elusive as it is powerful. That rare and stirring effect art has on us is matched by very few other things in life, and the best part of it is that it’s actually tightly entwined with them. There are times when art makes us experience emotions and ideas that we might not have even experienced in real life. At other times, it becomes a dreamcatcher, bringing to the surface the subtle thoughts from the depths of our minds and the nuanced feelings from the bottom of our hearts, and capturing them for us to understand. There is hardly any other art form where this beautiful power is as palpable as it is in music, and more specifically – sad music.

“Where words fail, music speaks.”

“Where words fail, music speaks.”  – Hans Christian Andersen found one of the best ways to describe music’s appeal. But now science might have explained something else about music, a somewhat contradictory phenomenon that for many constitutes music’s strongest allure. A study by Japanese scientists has found the answer to why sad music makes us feel positive emotions.

The experiment found that listening to music generates two types of emotions – perceived and felt.

Why we enjoy listening to sad music when happy

When we listen to a sad song, we perceive its sadness and the negative emotions that come with it, but they don’t have the same kind of effect on us as they would if they derived from something that happened to us directly in real life.

“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”

We experience them, but through the music’s beautiful prism and the artist’s poetic perspective which give it that signature melancholic feel we just can’t seem to get enough of. Sad music acts like a filter that does the dirty work, weeding out the tangible pain from a heartbreak and letting us enjoy its poetic beauty from a distance. It leaves just enough bitter to make the sweet even sweeter and give sadness a romantic spin. Sometimes music makes sorrow look so cool that we want to experience it first-hand, until we actually do.

Why we enjoy listening to sad music when sad

Sad music can also act like a painkiller when real life has hurt us. How many of us have found more consolation in sad music than even in the hugs of our best friends? Because of sad music’s ability to give us the sweet without the real sting of the bitter, listening to it when we are already sad puts our sorrow into perspective.

“If we suffer from unpleasant emotion evoked through daily life, sad music might be helpful to alleviate negative emotion”

After a couple of drinks, it almost feels as if your heartbreak is nothing but the subject of the beautiful ballad that’s blaring out of your speakers.

Hans Andersen might have come the closest to capturing the essence of music as a whole, but when it comes to sad music, Tom Waits put it best:

“I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.”

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