Tearjerker films make us feel happier

Tearjerker films make us feel happier

By Liz Lockhart

In the short-term watching a tearjerker film actually makes people feel happier which seems like an unlikely effect that has been suggested by new research.

The researchers discovered that if we watch a tragic film, such as Titanic, we tend to think about our own close relationships and this boosts our life happiness.  They feel that the experience brings attention to some positive aspects in our own lives.

The lead author of the study is Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, an associate professor of communication at Ohio State University.  Also involved in the study were Yuan Gong, Holly Hagner and Laura Kerkeybian, all of the Ohio State University.  The results of the study can be found in the publication Communication Research.

Knobloch-Westerwick says ‘Tragic stories often focus on themes of eternal love, and this leads viewers to think about their loved ones and count their blessings.’


It is the extent to which we think about our own relationships after watching a film that is the key to how happy we feel.  The more we think about our own loved ones, the more we benefit from an increased happiness.  People who have self-centred thoughts about the film, like ‘my life isn’t as bad as those in the film’, do not appear to feel happier.

This study is among the first to take a scientific look at why people enjoy fictional tragedies that make them feel sad, Knobloch-Westerwick said.  ‘Philosophers have considered this question over the millennia, but there hasn’t been much scientific attention to the question.’

An shortened version of the film ‘Atonement’ was watched by 361 college students.  The plot of Atonement involves two lovers who become separated and die as war casualties.  The students were asked several questions to measure how happy they were with their life.  They also had questions put to them before, after and three times during the film to measure how much they were feeling other emotions, including sadness.

After the viewing was over, the students rated how much they enjoyed the film and then wrote about how the film had made them think about themselves, their relationships, their goals and life in general.  It was what they wrote about, as a result of watching the film, that was a key to understanding just why viewing fictional tragedies leads to enjoyment, said Knobloch-Westerwick.  She added that the people who felt a greater increase in sadness whist watching the film were more likely to write about real people that they had close relationships with.  This then led to an increase in the participants’ life happiness after watching the film and also made them enjoy the film more.

Knobloch-Westerwick said ‘People seem to use tragedies as a way to reflect on the important relationships in their own life, to count their blessings.  That can help explain why tragedies are so popular with audiences, despite the sadness they induce.’

So why not sit back and watch a tearjerker over the weekend, it may make you cry but it could lead to you feeling happier.

Your rating: None Average: 10 (1 vote)