Watching films can be a great escape during difficult times, but when the stories are true, they’re even more satisfying. From the real-life resurrection of a defunct musician to cuddly babies smiling at you from across the world, watching joys and triumphs can be the antidote to feelings of sadness or ingratitude.
When fall weather brings on the blues, consider streaming one of these five documentaries to feel grateful and pull you out of a funk. The beauty of each one is that, though the subjects may face difficulty, by the film’s conclusion the audience is pulling for them and feels gratified by the cinematic experience.
Watch These Documentaries to Feel Grateful
Here is a short list of documentaries that will make your day brighter, and some ways to explore further film experiences to inspire hope in everyday life.
Searching for Sugar Man (Bendjelloul 2012)
Perhaps one of the most uplifting documentaries ever made, this story will surprise you. The mysterious suicide of Rodriguez, a Detroit musician from the 1970s, is investigated like a crime thriller by two South African fans. Once it begins, you see that it’s more than the story of a musician — it’s the tale of Detroit itself, and perhaps a way for the embattled city to rise out of the ashes.
The life of Rodriguez, the film’s primary subject, is inspiring, but once you understand the legacy of his life, you’ll be transformed. An unimaginable tale, watch this movie to reignite hope. It’s one of only a few movies with over 90% approval from both critics and audiences on Rotten Tomatoes.
Tig (Goolsby, York 2015)
Funny people getting sick is sad, but the talented ones can make you laugh along the way. Tig Notaro, a famous stand-up comedian, helps weave the tale of her battle with invasive stage II breast cancer. Although a story of difficulty, Notaro’s journey from healthy and happiness to sick and surviving is inspiring. Her wit and relatability charm viewers, but it’s her vulnerability that makes this film transcend typical recovery stories.
Told through multi-media, Notaro’s story offers hope for when you’ve been given tough news and don’t know what to expect. It’s emotional, but its intimacy provides the audience with perspective, which is crucial during times of crisis.
If, after watching this doc, you miss Tig and her unique voice, stream her semi-autobiographical series, “One Mississippi,” on Amazon. Though a different experience, the series is poignant, uplifting and honest.
Lessons of Basketball and War (Bourke 2015)
If “Hoop Dreams” (James 1994) made you jump for joy, expect even more exhilaration from this documentary. People often watch sport documentaries to feel grateful, and there’s little that’s more inspiring than watching athletes overcome obstacles for a win. But watching non-athletes use sports to overcome challenges may be even more thrilling.
This film, which tracks the transition of middle-school girls from war-torn Somalia, won many awards, including the prestigious International Award of Excellence. The movie offers insight into both the tragedy of war and the hope that accompanies a life far from home.
If you’re looking for other inspiring sports documentaries, check out some fan favorites that entertain and inspire.
Life in a Day (Various 2010)
In this documentary, filmmakers asked people to chronicle one day of their lives. Sound boring? It’s anything but. Beautifully filmed by amateurs in over 192 countries, visionary Kevin MacDonald brings together a collage of what it means to be human.
Watch this movie with someone you care about, and enjoy a story about love, hope and fear. Produced by Ridley Scott, this movie proves life is joyful, no matter where you are. You don’t have to live your best day ever, but watching someone else do it can encourage you to try.
Babies (Balmes 2010)
Cultural differences can be challenging. With this film, it’s easy to see that what binds humanity is stronger than what separates it — and we were all babies once. Filmmaker Thomas Balmes follows the first year of four babies from around the globe, in San Francisco, Mongolia, Tokyo and Namibia.
A celebration of life, watching this film will transform your day and remind you there’s no adversity — only the joy of life that all babies offer.
Screen an Uplifting Film and Spend a Day in Gratitude
When you watch these documentaries to feel grateful, you’re given an experience. One great joy after such an experience is sharing it. Grab a friend who may be struggling with unhappiness, or do it just for yourself. By appreciating the challenges of others, you better understand your own emotional difficulties.
Don’t let yourself wallow in pity — instead, spend an evening feeling appreciative. Even if it’s just for an hour and half, discover a world outside of yourself. The triumphs of others can uplift us as much as our own successes.
Do you have a favorite documentary that helps you feel grateful when you’re down? Tell us what it is in the comments section below!
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