Why We're So Happy Being Sad

February 28, 2014
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The modern young mind has developed an affinity for sadness. Teenagers will openly have conversations about self harm and suicidal thoughts, as if they're just discussing a new fashion to lust after. And maybe that is what human suffering has become, at least in the U.S.: a fad, a new cool trend. But what is it that makes us insist sadness is a virtue? Why do we think hating ourselves is suddenly and undeniably good?

Social media sites such as Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and countless others are making a large contribution to the popularization of sadness. According to “If Your Kids Are Awake, They’re Probably Online” an article published January 20th, 2010 by The New York Times, people between the ages of eight and eighteen spend about seven and a half hours on some sort of device that can connect to the internet, and that number has only risen in the past four years. The internet is always evolving, from a research and important communication resource, only afforded to some, into a social and leisure platform, that can be accessed by anyone from almost anywhere. And the content is always changing as well. New pages and blogs dedicated to promoting eating disorders, self harm, suicide, and drug abuse are appearing all over the online world. Pictures, art, and writing work hard to promote unhealthy habits and thoughts. Teenages constantly receive messages that they aren't “enough”, that they should be upset because of who they are, and that that self hatred makes them interesting or worth-while. Social media sites, where information can be passed on anonymously, and quickly, are just part of the reason that teenage depression is becoming a fashion trend.

While social media has evolved to convince young adults that self worth is outdated, music has changed to reflect the same dark tone. Glenn Schellenberg of the University of Toronto conducted a study (published May 21, 2012: Emotional Cues in American Popular Music: Five Decades of the Top 40) to discover what aspects of music made people happy versus sad. He had no trouble finding upbeat music – music with a fast tempo in a major key – from the sixties and seventies, but when he began searching for modern pop and rock music, all he could find was songs in a minor key; some had a faster tempo, but because of the minor key they weren't happy or sad, more emotionally confusing. Schellenberg hypothesizes that this sudden change from “happy music” to “sad music” in the past thirty to forty years is due to the fact that most children's music, like “wheels on the bus” and “baa baa black sheep”, have a faster tempo and are played in major keys. Because pop and rock music is generally meant for a teen audience, when, by nature, humans are growing away from their parents and their childhood, teens feel like sad music is more sophisticated and different from what they would like as children, causing them to want to listen to slow, sad music. Music can have an amazing effect on someone's mood. If the lyrics or the tune of a song is dark, it's surprisingly hard to be happy while listening to that music. If upbeat music doesn't appeal to youth, an optimistic lifestyle might be less appealing, so with more and more teens listening to slow music in a melancholy minor key, sadness is quickly becoming as widespread as a great new album.

Popular culture isn’t the only force addicting teens to sadness. All through history young people have had the job of cleaning up the messes left behind by future generations, for moving the world forward: creating a bright new outlook for their communities. Teens have always been the motivation behind revolution; their youth has given them enough hope to pick up the scraps of a broken world, again and again. Our generation however, has lost a great deal of this fire. We’ve been stripped of our youthful passion by being constantly connected to the worlds problems, and knowing everything that humans are capable of while having little to no control. Google defines hope as: “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen”. Here is where the problem arises: knowing the constant threat of nuclear war, seeing human trafficking and child soldiers on the television, being tethered to the awful truth of what humans can do has caused us to lose hope in ourselves. We have lost desire; we have drastically changed our expectations of themselves and others. Instead of young people sharing the bond of changing our world for the better, we have taken on the collective shackles of knowing too much, and being in control of too little. Because teens have no driving force to join together and change something, we’ve given up, we are all hopeless together, we’ve all become sad.

Between the ages of eleven and twenty, when the decision-making parts of the human brain are developing, people are influenced by everything around them, young adults are still trying to figure out their identity, and unfortunately they take a lot of information from the outside world about who they are. So when the internet, and music, the two things teens connect to most, are promoting sadness and self hatred, depression is becoming the great new purse that everyone wants. To add to the stress of finding an entire identity in the span of a few years -- because really that is what the American “dream” is expecting us to do -- we are living on a crumbling planet, and knowing so much about ourselves and about the world humans have created, has caused us to give up hope. It’s easiest to assume sad is the only way to be.

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MissLuna said...
Mar. 14, 2014 at 10:45 pm
You obviously don't know a lot about mental illnesses. You're oversimplifying things a LOT, using depressed and sad as synonyms, and assuming that enviroment causes mental illness. 
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