It’s New Years again. Time for that nasty “R” word to rear its head. You know it, don’t you? Yes, of course you do. It’s those RESOLUTIONS. Implied in the meaning of the word is the understanding that you plan to STOP doing one thing (i.e., the negative or ‘bad’) and START doing the opposite (i.e., the positive or ‘good’). Accompanying this process is always the question lurking in the back of your minds – “How long will it last?” After a bit of thinking, I have indeed resolved something come January 1st. I am resolved to CONTINUE a behavior that my husband, children, and I have enjoyed for years – watch movies. Specifically the good ones, and especially the GREAT ones. I would propose that it can be quite therapeutic.
My husband and I began this recreational custom when we were first married. When our children arrived, we extended it to them as well, and established Friday nights for the occasion which continues to this very day. All of them are officially adults now and still insist upon it. As you can well imagine, we definitely encountered some movies that were subsequently deposited into the ‘bad egg’ bin. Nonetheless, as we gained experience, we also improved in our ability to choose ones that reinforced essential life values and deepened our commitment to them. One in particular has been a yearly ritual and movie viewing staple, namely, Frank Capra’s iconic and timeless classic It’s A Wonderful Life. While typically watched prior to the Christmas season, it evokes heartfelt responses any time of the year.
Why is this? Ironically, the movie flopped at the box office when it was released, and only came to fame in the 70’s after being aired on television multiple times. Capra himself, the movie’s director, designated it as the favorite one of his films, as did Jimmy Stewart who played the lead role of George Bailey. The answer to why is found in the poignant way the movie speaks to real life themes. When Bailey is confronted by greed, selfishness, and abuse of power, he wrestles with deep self-doubt, loss, and even despair at one point; ultimately, however, the virtues of love, loyalty, sacrifice, and a renewed sense of hope and confidence in life itself triumph in the end.
So how does this relate to the proposition of movie viewing as therapeutic? Simply put, watching a movie is a kind of non-confrontive or indirect self-intervention that can empower us to engage with our own emotions, if we let it. Of course, because your only requirement is to watch, it has the potential to be primarily passive or mindless. Nonetheless, even if your motivation for viewing is just to ‘get your mind off of’ life’s stressors or simply to laugh loud and long, or cry for that matter, there is considerable evidence to support the benefits of doing so. Perhaps there may be themes that emerge that identify with your current life predicaments, enabling you to better cope or connect with them, or simply as confirmation that what you’re going through is normal. Ultimately, your experience of the film has the capacity to bring about healthy growth and change, when accompanied by a mindful and emotional receptivity guided by your personal values and a dose of healthy critical thinking and assessment.
So, as you begin 2016, instead of googling “Stress reduction tips for post-holiday blues,” why not find that feel good movie that has always lifted your spirits, invite a friend or loved one along, break open a fresh box of lotion-infused tissues, and enjoy some non-insurance-based therapeutic relief – in “reel” time. Oh, and by the way, in keeping with those other New Year resolutions, keep the snacks LIGHT.