People are more likely to feel happier with their lives in the short term after watching a sad movie because it makes them think about their loved ones.
To evaluate the effects of sad movies, researchers of communication at Ohio State University in Columbus asked 361 students to watch a 30-minute, abridged version of the tragic movie, Atonement
Results showed that overall, people felt better and happier after watching the tragic movie, researchers wrote in the journal Communication Research
The more the movie made participants think about their loved ones, the greater their increase in happiness.
On the other hand people who had self-centered thoughts during the movie -- such as, “My life isn't as bad as the characters in the movie,” didn’t experience more happiness.
“Tragic stories often focus on themes of eternal love, and this leads viewers to think about their loved ones and count their blessings," said senior author Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick of Ohio State University in Columbus.
Researchers refer to this phenomenon as the “tragedy paradox,” saying that “Tragedy-induced sadness instigates self-focused thoughts about one’s own life situation and socio-focused thoughts about one’s relationships with others, which in turn increase life happiness and subsequently tragedy enjoyment.”
A comedy film, however, appears to do the opposite.
“It discourages compassion and encourages viewers to laugh about mishaps that are often extremely unfortunate if not devastating for the affected characters,” the authors said.