Emotion Social Psychology Therapy

Episode 46: Thinking Positively – or Running Away from Your Feelings?

Sad Music and Psychology

What’s wrong with thinking positively? Could be a lot (see this recent article The Power of Negative Thinking). Let’s take another look at the so-called “power of positive thinking” in this episode of The Psych Files podcast. I’ll share some ideas for bringing about more positive events in your life, talk about social comparison theory, and then discuss how important “negative” – that is sad – feelings are in our lives. Those are moments not to run from, but to embrace.


Resources For This Episode

    • Here’s an interesting article that appeared in the BBC News entitled, Self-help ‘makes you feel worse’. The article summarizes a study showing that the repetition of positive affirmations (such as “I am a confident person” can actually make some feel people feel worse about themselves. Very interesting study.
    • Time magazine article (February 11, 2008): “Happiness: Enough Already” Sharon Begley

Social Comparison Theory

    • Definition: whenever we are uncertain about ourselves, our skills, our talents, etc., we tend to compare ourselves to other people. Typically we compare to people similar to ourselves in some way (same age, similar background, belong to the same group for example). But we can make upward and downward comparison.
    • Upward Comparison: you compare your self to someone who is either older, more experienced, more talented, more well off, etc. Comparisons of this type will probably make you feel worse about yourself.
    • Downward Comparison: the opposite of the above: you compare yourself to someone who is less fortunate than you. These comparisons will probably remind you of how fortunate you are and will make you feel better about yourself.

Ancient philosophers and spiritual teachers understood the need to balance the positive with the negative, optimism with pessimism, a striving for success and security with an openness to failure and uncertainty. – The Power of Negative Thinking

Sad Songs mentioned in this episode

  • Played at the end of the episode: the “Intermezzo” from the opera Cavaleria Rusticana by Mascagni.
  • O Mio Babbino Caro” from the opera Gianni Schicchi by Puccini
  • The Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven
  • Tristesse by Chopin
  • Lakme Duet (also called the Flower Duet) from the opera Lakme by Delibes
  • Claire de Lune by Debussey
  • Feel free to suggest other beautiful sad songs in your comments to this post!



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  5. Avatar

    Cortni Crump

    February 9, 2008

    I don’t agree with the fact that a piece must be in minor to be sad… the melody and the strings make it sad in a beautiful way. 🙂

  6. Avatar

    Ruth Eyrich

    February 9, 2008

    I found two sites with different sheet music one in Eb Major and one in F Major.
    http://www.heroicmusic.de/h_mNav/notenausschnitte/Notenausschnite_Orgel/Mascagni_Intermezzo_Eb_Org.html and http://www.heroicmusic.de/h_mNav/notenausschnitte/Notenausschnite_Orgel/Mascagni_Intermezzo_F_Org.html
    My Problem is that usually the last chord shows which tonality the music is in, and it’s supposed to end with the tonic, but here it ends with the tonic of the parallel minor, either the C minor chord or the Eb minor chord. That’s probably what makes the music sad.

  7. Avatar


    February 9, 2008

    Interesting question Ruth. I don’t know for sure if this is major or minor. I’ll see if I can get the sheet music and check it out. Sure sounds sad to me. When I find out I’ll post that info here (or feel free to do so if you find it first).

  8. Avatar

    Ruth Eyrich

    February 9, 2008

    I have to comment on the music from this episode. Like my friends would say, I can’t help it to be a BeWI (that’s the appriviation for Besserwisser and means Know-it-all 🙂 ).
    First of all you where asking if there is an oboe. Yes, there is all playing by itself, after the strings and the flutes.
    I don’t know if you wanted to use this music as an example for sad music, because I think this music in in major, and music somposed in major can’t be sad! It can have sad components but it can’t be sad. I was searching the internet for informations which tonality the music has. But I couldn’t find anything. So this is based on my hearing. 🙂
    I know this because I was a music major in school (our school system is a little bit different than in the states). We had to analyse the music, if you know what I mean.

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