Sad songs, songs that touch on gloomy themes, or feel melancholy like Justin Bieber’s Sorry, The Winner Takes it All by Abba, and Mr Brightside by The Killers, can kick-start your day with a mood boost that is still in effect up to two hours later.

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This is among the findings of a new research study into the emotional power of in-car playlists commissioned by Ford, with Spotify and New York University. Back to Black by Amy Winehouse and Everybody’s Changing by Keane would also fall into the sad songs category.

What all the sad songs have in common is a driving beat and a melancholy feel, which the research showed some people find the best soundtrack to their daily drive.

Scientists have identified two key characteristics of music that work together to create the mood.

Energy drives the song – the beat and the tempo, and valence describes the depth, emotion, and feeling of a track. Together, these elements can be a tonic to cheer up even the most tedious drive. For the study, testers in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the U.K., listened to carefully curated playlists showcasing different combinations of energy and valence. Driver moods were identified through questionnaires completed immediately before, immediately after, and at hourly intervals following morning commutes.

Tracks with a driving beat worked the best, but sad songs, or those in a minor key, with “low valence” were as popular as more obviously happy music with “high valence”.

Check out the playlist:

Across the board, music with a high level of energy left our testers feeling pumped up for the day ahead,” said Amy Belfi, a cognitive neuroscientist from New York University who is an expert on the effects of music on the brain.

What was particularly intriguing was that far from having to be ‘happy’ songs those most likely to have an uplifting effect could equally be brooding and melancholic. Of course, sad songs can actually make us feel good about ourselves. They may remind us, for example, of difficult experiences that we have overcome and learned from.

Spotify’s Koppel Verma, who advised on the research project, explains

This study showed that not only energetic happy pop songs work in the morning. In fact, when we analysed our existing commuter playlists data we found that many of them contained a high number of sad songs. This is significant because previous research has shown us that the morning commute is an important transitional time – now we can use our data to help set the tone for the day ahead.

Do you feel uplifted after listening to sad songs? Which songs do you listen to when you drive? Drop us a comment below and let us know.

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