The clichéd Hollywood movie has been long associated with an optimistic ending. You know, the one where the protagonist gets what he wants, even if it wasn’t what he was looking for in the first place. What’s interesting is that movies that end on a bright note often don’t leave you feeling entirely happy. It is sad movies, however, that can boost happiness by prompting people to reflect on their own lives in a more positive way. People are often drawn to sad movies when they’re sad, so perhaps there’s something in it.
Aristotle coined a term for it: eudaemonia, which is “the meaningfulness, insight and emotions that put us in touch with our own humanity.” He acknowledged that far from driving us to become a society of Debbie or Donald Downers, eudaemonia can actually enrich us and perhaps even teach us something about ourselves.
Opinion columnist Jessica Alexander suggests it may be a cultural thing. While American films often providing an optimistic ending, Danish films are known for tragic or sad endings. They reflect the Danes’ perspective on life; that upsetting events are something people should talk about and learn from. Pondering this, I took to Google to find out how the Danes fared in the latest World Happiness Report. Denmark places at number three, behind Switzerland and Iceland. They’re obviously pretty happy (as a country). The United States comes in at number 15; New Zealand at number nine.
An article on Salon made an interesting observation about how some literary classics have fallen out of popularity with readers, possibly because more readers are opting for optimism nowadays. Add to this, that our penchant for seeing the world through rose colored glasses is well-catered to by the film and television industry, which ultimately (and understandably) want to please their audience.
But back to sad endings. Sure, they make us reflect and think that life could be worse. But as noted by Laura Miller, they also show us “that a great spirit is still great even when it doesn’t win, that aspiration, courage and hope, however doomed, are virtues in their own right.”