What do Lucinda Williams’ Essence, Annie Lennox’s "Bare" and Steely Dan’s "Everything Must Go," have in common? They're all breakup CDs that came out roughly around the time of my divorce. Perhaps gray skies were gonna clear up, but in the meantime, I had to have them. I’m not even sure I knew why when I bought them. Warren Zevon’s "The Wind" is not a breakup CD, unless you count the fact that he was dying, kind of a breakup with the universe. I had to have that one too. As we know, music has charms to soothe the savage breast. We also know that misery loves company, not just plain old company, but miserable company. If we put it all together, we can understand more about music's effect on our mood.
At the time I didn't know that there was research to back up my preference. A recent study shows that people prefer sad music when they've experienced an interpersonal loss. The sad music may actually help people cope by providing a substitute for the loss, kind of like a companion. Hanging with Lucinda was all about having someone who could really feel my pain.
If only it were that simple. In another recent study, researchers found that listening to happy music after a loss helps you feel happier if, and only if, you intentionally try to feel happier. Not only did participants score a happier mood during the study, they were happier two weeks later. So the improved mood has some staying power. Just listening won't cut it, you must also try to feel happy.
How do we choose? Do we listen to sad or happy music when trying to cope with our loss? Not to sound like a broken record, but I think you have to try to mindfully figure out what really works for you at any given time.
It's fine to wallow short-term, but after awhile it gets old for you and everyone around you. Nevertheless, sometimes you do need an hour to put your feet up, get a glass of wine and cry with Annie about what diabolical dogs your exes were. Then you move on.
Need a pick me up to move on? None of those titles will do it. That's where happy music comes in. Remember, it's not enough to just listen. You have to will yourself to feel happier, which is not that tough if you really get into the music. Set an intention to match the mood of the music and I challenge you to listen to Sheryl Crowe's "Everyday is a Winding Road" or Beethoven's "6th Symphony," and not feel happier.
Having different playlists for different moods and activities is a great strategy. There's the pump-up list to use before a tough presentation, the cooking list for getting through all those steps in the fancy dinner you're preparing, and now you can add playlists to up-regulate your mood or feel your pain. Just try not to spend too much time in the house of pain; you're only a playlist away from a happy face.