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March 28, 2012 at 9:14 AMComments: 3 Faves: 0

Study: Watching Sad Movies Makes People Happy

By Brad Plaggemars More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the Mental Marvels Blog Series

I've always wondered why people enjoy watching movies that make them cry, but now new study has surfaced to explain the draw. Researchers claim that the emotional connection summoned by the stories presented in tragic films allow the audience to better appreciate their own close relationships and this resulted in a boost in their life happiness!

It seems watching negative experiences provides makes people more appreciative of the positive aspects in their own lives.

The Study

Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, Ph.D., who is the lead author of the study had this to say:

“Tragic stories often focus on themes of eternal love, and this leads viewers to think about their loved ones and count their blessings.”

Analysts say that those movies which cause the audience to take a look at their own lives and relationships are powerful. Researchers examined 361 college students while they viewed an abridged version of the 2007 film "Atonement."

"Atonement" is about two lovers who are separated and die as war casualties. Investigators found that the more students thought about their loved ones while viewing the film, the greater the increase in the their happiness. On the other hand, those who possessed more self-centered thoughts regarding the movie, like - "My life isn’t as bad as the characters in this movie"- did not experience an increase in happiness.

Before and after students viewed the movie, they were asked a number of questions in order to measure their level of happiness in their lives. They were also asked before, after and during the movie to rate the levels of certain emotions they were feeling, like sadness.

The Results

Once the students finished watching the movie, they were asked to rate how much they liked the movie and to write about how the movie had led them to reflect on themselves, their relationships, their goals, and life in general.

Knobloch-Westerwick discovered that those who experienced a greater sense of sadness while watching the film were more likely to write about people they had close relationships with. This then increased the participants' life happiness after viewing, which then related to more enjoyment of the movie itself.

“People seem to use tragedies as a way to reflect on the important relationships in their own life, to count their blessings,” Knobloch-Westerwick said. “That can help explain why tragedies are so popular with audiences, despite the sadness they induce. Tragedies don’t boost life happiness by making viewers think more about themselves. They appeal to people because they help them to appreciate their own relationships more."

Why would people have to feel sad by watching tragic films in order to feel better about their own lives?  Researchers claim that, from a psychology standpoint, negative moods actually allow people to be more hopeful. Hard to get up if you're already on top!


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  • Awesome article! I know a few people who only seem to watch sad movies, so this explains a lot!

  • Ahhhh, Atonement...I had no idea about the twist ending, so it caught me off guard and I felt sad for days after watching it, haha. Such a sad movie.

    Anyway, this research makes a strange sort of sense. If I'm not mistaken, we also get a rush of endorphins or something after that might contribute as well, perhaps?

  • Oh, and my favorite movie is incredibly sad: Life is Beautiful. Every time I watch it, I think I'm not going to cry because I've seen it so many times. But I cry. Every. Time.

    But in case you couldn't tell from the title, though it's incredibly tragic, there IS a huge sense of hope at the end, and I definitely feel better after watching it :)

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