How sad movies make us happy

Watching a tragedy movie causes us to think about our own close relationships—the sad story draws our attention to some of the positive aspects of our own lives, which in turn boosts our happiness quotient

Man watching sad movie
Sad movies teach us to appreciate relationships that matter

Movies with a tragic end or a plot like the multi-Oscar winner Titanic bring us in tears. But that's a good thing, find Ohio State University researchers. According to them, watching a tragedy movie causes us to think about our own close relationships—the sad story draws our attention to some of the positive aspects of our own lives, which in turn boosts our happiness quotient.

“Tragic stories often focus on themes of eternal love, and this leads viewers to think about their loved ones and count their blessings,” said Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, lead author of the study and associate professor of communication at Ohio State University.

According to Knobloch-Westerwick, negative moods make people more thoughtful. “Positive emotions are generally a signal that everything is fine, you don’t have to worry, you don’t have to think about issues in your life. But negative emotions, like sadness, make you think more critically about your situation.  So seeing a tragic movie about star-crossed lovers may make you sad, but that will cause you to think more about your own close relationships and appreciate them more.”

It also depends on the extent to which we think about our relationships after watching the movie. The more we think of our loved ones, the happier we feel. However, if we compare ourselves to the characters in the movie and think that our lives are better than the actor's, it does nothing to our happiness levels.

This study is one of the first to take a scientific approach to explaining why people enjoy fictional tragedies even though they feel sad watching them.

Ohio State University Research News

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