Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
Wellness > Health

The paradox of pleasurable sadness – why do we enjoy sad music?

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Nottingham chapter.

There’s a somewhat strange desire to sulk to sad songs when we feel down. It’s an almost impulsive habit to stick on some depressing music to make us feel even worse.

So why is it that we choose to listen to sad music when it should offer us an unpleasant experience?

An accumulation of studies has found that humans find sad music pleasurable in an aesthetic context. Here’s why: Catharsis

  • The great philosopher Aristotle believed that music was a form of catharsis, a means of providing relief from strongly repressed emotions. He suggested that sad music assuages sadness and depression.


  • Sad music often makes us reflect on memories, enhancing our mood. Our imagination becomes more vivid when accompanied by music. It also triggers more pivotal and meaningful memories from our past in the hopes of retrieving the forgone feelings.


  • For many, music is a form of expression. A sense of belonging overcomes us when song lyrics narrate what we can’t. Music therefore helps voices our emotions by mirroring them.


  • Studies have found a link between sad music and Prolactin, a hormone associated with crying and grief. In response to sad music, the brain prepares itself for a traumatic event but when this does not occur, we are left with a feeling of pleasure instead.

Vicarious emotion

  • When we listen to sad music, we experience vicarious emotion. We can experience it without feeling threatened in any way as we are disconnected from any real danger, giving rise to a feeling of pleasure instead.

Mood regulation

  • Listening to sad music can help a person disengage from a distressing situation and instead indulge in the music, helping to regulate their mood.

Sadness is an unpleasant feeling, and yet there is something rather pleasant about experiencing sadness in the context of art. So, although it seems pointless to wallow to the sound of doleful melodies, more often than not you end up feeling happier, clear minded and rational.

Pippa Box

Nottingham '23

3rd Year Philosophy Student at the University of Nottingham