How Consuming Positive Media Can Make Us Happier

Newsflash: the media can lift our spirits

Feb 17, 2017
People are more inspired to become better people after reading a story about uncommon goodness. (Shutterstock)

People are more inspired to become better people after reading a story about uncommon goodness. (Dean Drobot /

Most know of the effects media can have on mental and physical health. What we may not have realized is that media can also make us happier - if it’s positive meda. Positive media psychologist Sophie H. Janicke, Ph.D has conducted several studies aimed towards understanding media’s potential to “spread goodness on a wide scale,” and there are other studies that have come to the same conclusion.

In 2012, scholar Mary Beth Oliver of Penn State University found that certain films cause viewers to experience “elevation” or a boost in our moods after watching someone show gratitude, generosity, or loyalty. Oliver and her team asked 483 students to describe a movie they recently watched and explain where in the film they felt the most upbeat. The study showed that the films with the biggest ‘feel-good’ themes (such as helping the less fortunate) were more meaningful than movies categorized as pleasurable.

These meaningful movies created physical and emotional responses from the audience that we sometimes experience ourselves: the good kind of chills, feeling both happy and sad simultaneously, tearing up, etc. Oliver and her fellow researchers discovered that it’s the meaningful movies that encourage us audience members to become more altruistic and spread the good around. Pleasurable movies prompted an inner desire for self satisfaction.

When Janicke and her colleagues asked 266 students to name the movies that touched them the most, these films appeared the most meaningful list: Remember the Titans, Forrest Gump, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, A Walk To Remember, or The Blindside. What do these films have in common? Altruism.

After watching these films, or films with similar messages, viewers feel connected to loved ones, experience happiness, and have the desire to help others (including strangers). It’s not just movies that can affect the way we feel; In 2011, Karl Aquino of the University of British Columbia established through his study that subjects were more inspired to become better people after reading a story about uncommon goodness. Absorbing good media is more than a way to pass the time; by exposing ourselves to positive stories, we’re tapping into that inner desire to do good for others.

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Rebecca is passionate about reading, cooking, and learning about people doing good in the world. She especially loves writing about wellness, personal growth, and relationships.