Can Binge-Watching Make You Happier?

March 4, 2023

According to Psychology Today, we are wired to binge-watch television. Humans are social beings and we connect emotionally with the stories and the plights of others on the screen. There's even a new field called neurocinematics which is the study of how television and film interact with the brain. Neurocinematics research is finding that people binge to take a break from their regular lives by zoning out and being engrossed in a world that isn't their own and that watching helps to a avoid fatigue in hectic, digitally-driven lives. Ryan Niemiec is the founder of VIA Character Strengths, a positive psychology framework using the work first described by Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson that identifies 24 universal strengths or virtues that impact well-being. Niemiec published a book positive psychology at the movies where he provides a deeply science-backed explanation of how the language of films allow us to experience the strengths and virtues that are universal across the population so we can have a meaningful experience while thinking about the virtues that we value most. Ultimately this can lift us or put us in an upward spiral towards more positive emotion. He calls this "cinematic elevation- the experience of positive emotion when watching a character displaying a character strength coupled with an intention to act for the good".In your life as a movie-goer or Netflix binger, this means there are actual physical and emotional benefits to screen time. In order to help you get the most out of your couch potato time, I encourage you to take the VIA survey and start watching through the lens of your strengths. My long-time favourite movie, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, aligns well with some of my top strengths including ZEST, CURIOSITY & CREATIVITY. Which movies or movie characters do you love and how do they relate to your strengths? Here's a list of the strengths, grouped by category, along with some of the top movie suggestions for each one.

Category- Wisdom and Knowlege

The category wisdom and knowledge includes the strengths of perspective, love of learning, open-mindedness, curiosity, and creativity. Many consider this virtue category to be the core, the one that makes other virtues and strengths possible. Films that engender the wisdom and knowledge virtues often have the lead character directly or indirectly sharing insight and lifting others to higher levels of wisdom and knowledge, Archetypical characters that would fall into this category are Yoda, Gandolf, and Dumbledore.


Frida (2002)A Beautiful Mind (2001)Dead Poets Society (1989)Mr. Holland's Opus (1995)Maniac (2001)Awakenings (1990)Meet the Robinsons (2007) GBig Hero 6 (2014) G


Amelie (2001)The Secret Garden (1993)Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) G10 Items or Less (2006)Sideways (2004)Jurassic Park (1994)The Machinist (2004)Mongolian Ping Pong (2005)James and the Giant Peach (1996)Up (2009)


My Dinner with Andre (1981)Beatriz at Dinner (2017)Samsara (2011)Lucy (2014)Life as a House (2001)Inception (2010)


The Sixth Sense (1999)A Beautiful Mind (2001)Big Fish (2003)Gone Girl (2014)Inside Out (2015)

Love of Learning

Akeelah and the Bee (2006)Billy Elliott (2000)Dead Poets Society (1989)The Karate Kid (1984)Finding Forrester (2001)

Category- Courage

The category of courage includes virtues that are emotional strengths. This includes bravery, persistence, integrity, and vitality. There have been attempts by psychologists to develop scales to measure courage and others believe courage to be a way to define meaning in an otherwise meaningless world. Scientifically very little is known about genetics and neuroscience of courage. There is also a distinction, sometimes made, between personal courage and general courage. General courage involves actions that impact everyone and personal courage is individualized.


Apollo 13 (1995)The Diary of Anne Frank (1959)Moana (2016) GThe Kite Runner (2007)Napoleon Dynamite (2004)Rudy (1993)Saving Private Ryan (1998)WALL-E (2008) G


The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)Finding Nemo (2003) GBabe (1995) GHomeward Bound (1993)Fame (1980)127 Hours (2010)


Forrest Gump (1994)Shark Tale (2004) GCharlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) GPinnochio (1940)Shattered Glass (2003)Memento (2000)Before I Go to Sleep (2014)


Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)Life Is Beautiful (1997)Mary Poppins (1964) GPeter Pan (2003) GLegally Blonde (2001)Singing in the Rain (1952)Big Fish (2003)

Category- Humanity

Virtues that fall under humanity includes love, kindness, and social intelligence. The humanity strengths are all involved in relationship building and reaching out to befriend others. Niemiec noted a trend in today's world toward movies that emphasize the character strengths and virtues under the heading of humanity.


Ghost (1990)The Notebook (2004)On Golden Pond (1981)Sleepless in Seattle (1993)When Harry Met Sally (1989)The Princess Bride (1987)Trainwreck (2015)Friends With Benefits (2011)


As Good as it Gets (1997)Schindler's List (1993)The Blind Side (2009)Wonder (2012)Victoria and Abdul (2017)

Category- Justice

The next category is the virtue of justice which contains citizenship, leadership, and fairness. This domain is the about interaction between an individual and the society around them. Of the six domains of virtues, justice and humanity, according to Peterson and Seligman, are the most universal. In cinema Justice films are often produced by indie film companies and seen at international film festivals- they aren't the big box office winners and yet there are some fabulous gems in this category.


The Bad News Bears (1976)Cool Runnings (1993)A League of Their Own (1992)Radio (2003)Remember the Titans (2003)Coach Carter (2005)Pitch Perfect (2012)


Dead Man Walking (1995)Ghandi (1982)To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)Boys Don't Cry (1999)Philidelphia (1993)


Evita (1997)The Lion King (1994) GBlack Panther (2018)Saving Private Ryan (1992)An Inconvenient Truth (2006)Milk (2009)

Category- Temperance

The temperance domain is made up of four character strengths; modesty, prudence, mercy, and self-regulation. According to Niemiec, temperance is the category least portrayed in cinema and it's one of the hardest to identify. It's interesting to note that our movie heroes rarely show restraint in drinking, drug use, eating, behaving aggressively and having sex.


The Shawshank Redemption (1994)The Green Mile (1999)Good Will Hunting (1997)Man on Fire (2004)Crash (2004)Cinderella (2015)


Ghandi (1982)Mary and Max (2009)The Music Man (1962)Brian and the Boz (2014)Roxanne (1987)Clueless (1995)

Prudence & Self-Regulation

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)Unbroken (2014)A Man For All Seasons (1966)12 Years a Slave (2013)

Category- Transcendence

The final domain is the virtue of transcendence. Transcendence is described as an individual moving beyond the ordinary range of human experience and understanding. I think of transcendence as living for the greater good. The strengths that fall under this virtue include appreciation of beauty, gratitude, hope, humor, and spirituality. Transcendence can elicit a number of positive emotions that are related to our happiness including joy, awe, and admiration. Films in this category may contain a spiritual message or a feeling of deeper connection with something bigger than oneself.

Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence

Frida (2002)Pocahontas (1995) GWALL-E (2008) GChariots of Fire (1981)Race (2016)March of the Penguins (2005) GInto The Wild (2007)


Freaky Friday (2003)Mr. Holland's Opus (1995)It Could Happen to You (1994)Trading Places (1983)Slumdog Millionaire (2008)Pay It Forward (2000)The Blindside (2009)


Life Is Beautiful (1997)Miracles From Heaven (2016)Freedom Writers (2007)Erin Brockovich (2000)The Help (2011)


Austin Powers (1997)Something About Mary (1998)Anchorman (2004)Meet the Parents (2000)Zoolander (2001)Ace Venture Pet Detective (1994)


Eat, Pray, Love (2010)Wild (2014)Samsara (2011)Little Buddha (1993)Amadeus (1984)If you think of one not on this list, please send it our way and we’ll add it. Get your popcorn ready and happy binge-watching!

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