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September 17, 2013
by Dr. Anthony Centore, Ph.D.

Can Sad Things Make Us Happy?

September 17, 2013 12:27 by Dr. Anthony Centore, Ph.D.

Though we don't typically associate the two, sadness and joy are more closely linked than you might think. Have you ever been in a situation where you feel mildly or even severely depressed, but then feel better after letting it out?

The venting of melancholic emotions does just that: it lets everything out. That is why activities that may elicit a strong, emotional reaction (such as a sad movie) can actually bring us to a more positive mood at the end. 

Another scenario: have you ever watched a movie that has a sad ending, only for you to feel somewhat encouraged at the end? Why does this happen sometimes? Generally speaking, these kinds of outlets force us to compare our own lives with that of the characters depicted onscreen.

It is a real thing for you to find solace in the fact that fiction can be even more depressing than our own lives. You may even subconsciously recognize that you have taken some of the good things in your life for granted. 

Of course, results may vary. If you are in a situation that is causing you immense pain, then you probably need to seek the help of the professional. Otherwise, venting out your sad feelings can be as simple as reflecting on how good you may have it.

Now, what if you are actively trying to be happy? Wouldn't you say that seeking happiness is a bit more effective? Unfortunately, that may not be so. Sure, certain things may bring us joy in the short-term, and it is wise to have achievable goals. But if you are measuring your happiness only against the things you wish to obtain, then you limit yourself to the happiness you have created for yourself.

Good examples: job promotions, buying a house, getting married, becoming famous and more are all things that most people would like to accomplish. Inherently, these aren't bad things to want, but when we constrain our expectations for happiness to these goals, what happens if we don't actually get joy out of our high-paying careers or house with kids?

Chances are you'll fall into depression. Is it no wonder that folks who apparently achieve riches and glory are just as susceptible to severe anxiety and depression? It is within our nature to adapt to new situations. The perks and benefits of your job promotion will fade away within a few months. You'll crave more. 

Conversely, seeking out the sadness in things does the reverse. We are actively humbling ourselves by observing a situation or story removed from our own. These sad stories are a bit of a reality check in terms of how we fare against the rest of the world. 

What's interesting is how we look at happiness in terms of actions versus conditions. When we are trying to find happiness by focusing on our career or personal goals, we are taking actions in an effort to improve our conditions. Accepting our personal situations and being humbled is inaction. We reflect on and accept our current conditions as being either "enough" or an adequate part of our life's flow.

For example: a person may find himself discouraged because he got married at age 30, but he is not content with his life. He watches a tragic movie that causes him to analyze how his situation is favorable because his wife is healthy, and their marriage is thriving. He may realize that his life is a progression that may improve in time, despite what he thinks about his current circumstances.

Here is a list of sad movies that you may find happiness in watching:

  • Forrest Gump
  • The Notebook
  • Schindler's List
  • Up
  • Saving Private Ryan
  • Atonement
  • Titanic
  • Philadelphia
  • Million Dollar Baby
  • The Pursuit of Happiness


About the Author

Dr. Anthony Centore Dr. Anthony Centore

Anthony Centore PhD is Founder of Thriveworks; a company that provides healthcare practices across the United States with Medical Credentialing, Medical Billing, and Business Consulting services.

Dr. Anthony Centore can be found at
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