Sometimes, it feels like the best medicine when you're feeling down in the dumps is a good cry — and science agrees. If you've ever wondered why you like listening to sad music, recent research has found that it can actually help you feel better. How's that for a reason to blast Adele and scream the lyrics from the tops of your lungs?
The study was published in Scientific Reports and found an undeniable link between crying to music and experiencing pleasure. In the study, participants filled out a survey stating how frequently music makes them feel goose bumps, shivers down their spine, a lump in their throat, and the urge to weep. Based on these answers, they were then divided into two groups: Tears and chills. Each participant listened to six songs picked to get an emotional response out of them, including three they picked themselves. Whenever they felt their specified reaction (tears or chills), they pushed a button and moved a mouse on a screen to indicate how much pleasure they were feeling. Researchers monitored heart rate and other indications of arousal.
Their findings were intriguing: People who experienced chills from a song perceived it as both happy and sad; however, people who experienced tears from their songs perceived them only as sad.
Here's the thing: Both reactions resulted in deep breathing and pleasure for the participants, suggesting that even tears of sadness can evoke feelings of pleasure and be psychophysiologically calming.
Other research backs up this idea that sad music can make us happier. Could it be because we feel better about ourselves when we listen to someone who's in even more pain? Possibly. Could it be that these songs resonate with us so deeply because the singer's circumstances mirror our own? That's another good one. Some researchers think it has more to do with how melancholy music can release the hormone prolactin, which helps curb grief. It's our body's way of preparing us for a traumatic event — except it never happens. We're then left with a happy mix of opiates. Dopamine (a neurotransmitter connected to food, sex, and drugs) could also be the culprit.
This isn't the first time we're learning that sad stuff can actually make us happy. Other research has found that when we watch sad, emotional, or tragic movies, our brain activity promotes feelings of happiness, a sense of community, and closeness in relationships. One theory explaining this is that seeing sad things in movies makes us more grateful for our own lives. Another theory as that as we empathize with the characters we're watching, our brains release oxytocin and encourage us to care about others.
So the next time you're feeling blue and you listen to Adele's "Someone Like You" (AKA everyone's favorite break-up song) on repeat, take comfort in the fact that you might very well feel a little better afterward.