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Why Tearjerkers Cheer Us up

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...

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

Michael Jourdan
Since 2005, Michael has been a librarian at National Geographic.