Written by : Ryan Niemiec, Psy.D. 

5 Must-Watch Movies for the Holidays

Movies inspire and entertain us. They bring us together and keep us laughing (or crying) on a dark winter's day when it's too cold to go out and play. One thing good movies can also do is show us character strengths—those virtues or qualities that define us as individuals. The VIA Institute on Character has defined 24 character strengths—such as bravery, humor and integrity—which all of us have but use to varying degrees.

This holiday season, try watching movies with friends and family and then talk about what’s most meaningful to you, or debate the best virtues of each character.

1. Frozen

Since this is now officially the most popular animated film of all time, you’ve likely seen Elsa’s efforts to handle her “frozen” powers and Anna’s journey to save Elsa. What most people seem to miss is the “power” of Anna’s character strengths. We all can learn from Anna’s bravery and perseverance as she goes off into the wilderness, faces down wolves, the bitter cold and the unknown to save her sister. Anna is driven by the strength of love, as well as other strengths like fairness, teamwork, zest and curiosity.

2. Groundhog Day

This unique comedy portrays an ungrateful, mean-spirited weatherman who finds himself trapped, repeating the same day over and over. Like a bad dream, he’s caught in the same routines and daily irritations, with no ability to do anything about it. It’s not until he begins to live fully and engage his strengths that he awakens from his autopilot experience. Look for the character strengths of gratitude, love of learning, kindness and curiosity.

3. The Blind Side

Leigh Anne Tuohy’s strengths of authenticity, bravery and persevering kindness are on full display as she helps a young man who has been cast aside by society. She uncovers his suppressed talents and hidden strengths, bringing him into her family and loving him like her own son. She creates an environment for him to flourish and helps him navigate educational systems that would otherwise have failed him.

4. It’s a Wonderful Life

It’s hard to imagine a holiday season without this cherished classic, which film experts call the single “most inspiring movie” in film history. The popularity of this film and its hero, George Bailey, has to do with its four key messages: It’s never too late to improve yourself; be grateful for what you have; prioritize family/friends; and when in doubt, be kind to your neighbor. Look for those and for George’s many character strengths such as forgiveness, perseverance, hope and kindness.

5. Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas)

While not for the entire family, this French drama tells the unbelievable true story of Scottish, French and German soldiers who call a truce and cease-fire on Christmas Eve during World War I. When the soldiers step across enemy lines and share family photos and champagne, we are reminded of the human connection we all share. Our own strength of wisdom builds as we see there is a common humanity that transcends even the horrors of war. Look for the character strengths of kindness, teamwork, fairness and perspective/wisdom.

Ryan Niemiec is the Education Director at the Via Institute on Character, and co-author of Positive Psychology at the Movies and Movies and Mental Illness.

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