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What to Know About Tears of Happiness

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 28, 2021

Sometimes, when we’re filled with joy and emotion, we start to cry. We usually associate tears with sadness, so it might seem strange to cry when you’re happy. 

But crying can have some positive effects on your well being, and can actually help you to manage your emotions.  

What Are Tears of Happiness?

It’s not known exactly why we cry tears of happiness or how they are different from tears of anger or sadness. But when we cry due to something we think of as good, rather than something that’s sad, we call our tears “tears of joy”. 

You don’t just shed tears when you’re upset. There are three different types of tears, categorized by the reasons they appear: 

  • Basal tears. These tears are actually in your eyes all day. They act as a lubricant and disinfectant for your eyes. In addition to the water and salt that you might expect in a tear, there is also mucus and oil. The oil protects the tear from evaporating. 
  • Psychic or emotional tears. We cry psychic or emotional tears in response to an emotional event. These tears contain stress hormones. 
  • Irritant tears. Irritant tears flush out your eye when something disturbs it or gets inside. A common example would be the tears you get from cutting onions.  

Benefits of Crying

Crying can cause your body to produce hormones that make you feel better. You release oxytocin and endorphins after you cry, which can help lift your mood. 

If you feel emotional comfort when you cry, your mood can improve afterward. But if you try to push back your tears or feel shame when you cry, it can have the opposite effect and actually bring down your mood.

The culture you live in may also play a part in whether or not you feel better after you cry. People who live in wealthy countries are more likely to feel relieved and more positive after experiencing a bout of tears. 

Types of Tears of Happiness

A recent study tells us there are four different types of positive tears: amusement, affection, beauty, and achievement. 

  • Amusement. You cry tears of amusement when you are laughing at something, or find something so amusing you can’t help but shed tears. 
  • Affection. Tears of affection might happen when you’re at a wedding or have an unexpected rush of gratitude and feelings of warmth. It’s common to have tears of affection for someone you care about.  
  • Beauty. You can cry tears when you become overwhelmed by an astounding scene. It can happen when you’re overtaken by beautiful music or a riveting nature scene. 
  • Achievement. Achievement tears could happen when you achieve something important or overcome an obstacle or hurdle. 

This study reviewed reports from more than 13,000 people and also found interesting cultural similarities. People who live in Western societies or in societies that focus on the individual were more likely to cry tears of beauty or amusement. Participants who live in communal cultures showed more tears of affection. 

Women are also more likely to cry tears of happiness than men.

How Tears of Joy Can Affect Health

Crying tears of joy has a purpose. They can help you keep your emotional balance. People who cry from happiness when they’re overwhelmed can actually recover better from the original feeling that caused them to cry.  

You can have two different emotions in response to a single cause. This is called a dimorphous expression. Dimorphous expressions can help you regulate your emotions so they don’t overwhelm you.

Show Sources

SOURCES: 

Association for Psychological Science: “‘Tears of Joy’ May Help Us Maintain Emotional Balance.”

Brain Pickings: “The Topography of Tears: A Stunning Aerial Tour of the Landscape of Human Emotion Through an Optical Microscope.”

Canadian Journal of Psychiatry: “Tears of joy.”

Cleveland Clinic: Health Essentials:  “Why We Cry and What Tears Are Made Of.”

Frontiers in Psychology: “Is crying a self-soothing behavior?”

Personality and Individual Differences: “Tears of sorrow, tears of joy: An individual differences approach to crying in Dutch females.”

PsyArXIV Preprints: “A Model of Positive Tears.”

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