From bawling your eyes out over Bambi as a kid, to the slow, painful tug of the heart strings that was Beginners, most of us are suckers for a sad film. But a new study suggests that the reason for that might be incredibly simple: It turns out that sad films make us happy.
The research, carried out at Ohio State University, tried to get to the bottom of our emotional reactions to sad cinema. To do that, researchers sat down 361 university students and made them watch the 2007 movie Atonement. That flick, in case you missed it, features two separated lovers who die as war casualties. That counts as sad.
Before and after the viewing, the participants were asked how happy they were with their life, and during the film they were also asked to rate their current emotional state.
The result? People who experienced the greatest increase in sadness during the movie reported increased life happiness after viewing it. They also rated the film as being better. The results appear in Communication Research. Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, one of the researchers, explains to Science Daily:
"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."
Previous psychological research has linked sadness with increased thoughtfulness. What's happening with sad movies, say the researchers, is that when they trigger a big enough emotional response, viewers begin to analyse their personal lives and appreciate them more. That makes them happier.