Why We Love Sad MusicBy: Alex Guillory
I came across a TED Talk titled, "The hidden power of sad songs and rainy days," and I wanted to share my insights about the video.
The speaker, Susan Cain, begins the video with a personal anecdote about changing her career path in her early 30s. She had felt lost in her career and relationship, so she put an end to them both. She then quoted her friend's insightful advice concerning a rebound relationship that Cain wasn't happy in: "You are this hooked because he represents something you're longing for. What are you longing for?" (Cain, 2019, 1:54).
I felt called out at this point in the presentation, because I, like Cain, have been feeling a little lost. But this made me stop and think; I paused the video and pondered on this question for a few minutes because Cain's friend made a valuable point about the human feeling of being lost and its correspondence to longing. Personally, I have been longing for closer relationships, both romantic and platonic, but I have been filling these gaps with subpar relationships that have not been fulfilling. I never knew why until tonight after watching this video. I have been longing for meaningful connections with people.
Cain continues to explain her theory as to why people enjoy rainy days and sad music. "…they tell researchers that they associate sad music with beauty and wonder and transcendence, the so-called sublime emotions…And then it's not just music, right? We like rainy days and tragic drama and cherry blossoms, which we celebrate over equally lovely flowers partly because they die young. Philosophers call that the paradox of tragedy." (Cain, 2019, 4:59, 5:32)
Cain believes that our liking of sorrowful things boils down to that longing for something just out of our reach. C.S Lewis described this state of mind as "the inconsolable longing for we know not what." (Cain, 2019, 2:33). We love sad things because it reminds us that we are not alone in this feeling of longing. It is also these emotions associated with sad songs and rainy days that explain why we love painters and other artists, "Because they're the ones who bring us the breath of magic from that other place." (Cain, 2019, 6:21). We long for something that we do not know. Still, art gives us a taste of that transcendence and sublime emotions we crave.
I believe that we need to feel both the good and the bad emotions in life. They balance each other out, and the bad gives us an appreciation for the good, but I also think it is good within the bad. That sense of longing we feel when we are sad is something we can grasp onto for hope, hope for brighter days. We may not know when or if the longing will ever be satisfied, but we can use that feeling to give us hope. We can also use that longing to broaden our perspective and see the sublime nature of our world. There is this almost fifth dimension to our world regarding human emotions. The tragedy paradox proves that we can find beauty in the premature death of flowers and the fact that we can accept "that humanity is steeped in the sublime." (Cain, 2019, 14:58)
I ended the video with more questions than when I began, but I left with an odd sense of comfort. Somehow hearing that everyone feels this longing that I have been experiencing was comforting to me, and it made me realize that everyone, at the most basic level, is experiencing the same human struggle: the struggle to feel complete.
Click the link below to watch the TED Talk for yourself:
Cain, S. and Kym, Min. (2019). The hidden power of sad songs and rainy days. [Video]. TED Summit.