We all have that one playlist (at least I do) that we go running to whenever we’re down in the dumps. Whether it be the end of a relationship, being away from a loved one, or feeling homesick, we can always rely on the so-called “Sad Playlist” for comfort. But why are over half of the songs on our Sad Playlist actually sad? A recent study conducted at the Freie Universitat Berlin in Germany has found that we listen to sad music to help us feel more nostalgic by empathizing with the singer.

"People turn to sad music for comfort, and to deal with bad feelings, but also simply for pleasure," co-author Liila Taruffi told TODAY. “Sad music has potential to regulate negative moods and emotions, as well as to provide consolation. In this sense, sad music can play a role in wellbeing. Sad music promotes and creates a space for reflection and reappraisal of personal experiences, thoughts and feelings.”

Taruffi and her colleague Stefan Koelsch gathered responses from an online survey issued to 772 participants. Participants who were more empathetic with a lower emotional stability had a greater appreciation for sad music. The research team was surprised to learn that nostalgia, not sadness, was the most common emotion evoked by a sad song.

Four different rewards we get from listening to sad music were outlined by the researchers. First, we receive the “reward of imagination,” meaning the listener feels that they can express their emotions in a format similar to the music they are hearing. We also receive “emotion regulation” by experiencing sadness through the music, which provides us with an emotional boost.

“Empathy” also plays a major role in the positive effect sad music has on our emotions because we feel like we are sharing and understanding the sadness of the singer. Lastly, we can listen to sad music and feel sad without any “real-life” implications that come with a devastating life event that causes sadness. The three most popular reasons participants turned to sad music included emotional distress, the wake of social problems, and to reflect on memories.

A similar study conducted by researchers from Tokyo University of the Arts and the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan also suggested that sad music provides us with the platform to experience sadness through art without it posing a threat on our safety.

"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. If we suffer from unpleasant emotion evoked through daily life, sad music might be helpful to alleviate negative emotion," Japanese researchers said in a statement.

Source: Taruffi L, Koelsch S. The Paradox of Music-Evoked Sadness: An Online Survey. PLOS One. 2014.