Why Tearjerkers Cheer Us up

Photo by Ritika Mittal

As strange as it sounds, there may be nothing so good as a sad movie to lift your spirits. Researchers at Ohio State University screened an abridged version of the 2007 tearjerker Atonement for a group of 361 college students and noted an increased level of happiness from many viewers after the closing credits. “People seem to use tragedies as a way to reflect on the important relationships in their own life, to count their blessings,” says Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, lead author of the study. “That can help explain why tragedies are so popular with audiences, despite the sadness they induce.”

Interestingly, participants who viewed the film from a self-centered, “my-life-is-better-than-those-poor-sods-in-the-movie” perspective didn’t feel happier afterwards. Rather, it was those viewers who thought more about their loved ones after seeing the film who became more cheerful.  As Knobloch-Westerwick explains, “Tragedies bring to mind close relationships, which makes us happy.”

So, maybe it’s time rent Titanic and pop some popcorn. Don’t spare the hankies.

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Meet the Author
Since 2005, Michael has been a librarian at National Geographic.