woman with short brown hair crying and smilingShare on Pinterest

Cry when sad? Very common. You’ve probably done it once or twice yourself. Perhaps you have also cried out of anger or frustration at some point, or witnessed another person cry in anger.

But there’s another kind of cry you might have some experience with: the happy cry.

You’ve probably seen this in various movies and TV shows, but if you’ve ever felt overwhelmed with joy or success, you may have cried a few tears of happiness.

Tears of joy can be a bit confusing, especially if you associate crying with unwanted emotions. But they are completely normal.

Happy tears aren’t age or gender specific, so in theory they could happen to anyone experiencing emotions.

But why do they happen? No one has a definitive answer, but scientific research offers some possible explanations.

Most people think of sadness, anger, and frustration as negative. People generally want to be happy, and you’ll probably have a hard time finding someone who sees happiness as something negative. So what’s with the tears of happiness?

well happiness does it they share a similarity with other emotions: positive or negative, they can all be quite intense.

According to investigate As of 2015, happy tears occur when you experience emotions so intense that they become uncontrollable. When these emotions start to overwhelm you, you may cry or yell (perhaps both) to help get those emotions out.

After opening your college acceptance letter, for example, you may have screamed (so loudly that your family thought you had been seriously injured) and then burst into tears.

dimorphic expression

Happy tears are a great example of dimorphic expression. Here, dimorphic means “two forms”. These expressions come from the same place but manifest in different ways.

Here’s another example: have you ever seen something so cute, like an animal or a baby, that you had the urge to grab it and squeeze it? There’s even a phrase you may have heard, perhaps from an adult to a small child: “I could eat you!”

Of course, you don’t want to hurt that pet or child by squeezing it. And (most?) adults really just want to cuddle and hold babies, not eat them. So this somewhat aggressive expression of emotion may seem a bit strange, but it has a simple explanation: the feelings are so intense that you just don’t know how to handle them.

find a balance

Difficulty managing emotions can sometimes have negative consequences. Some people who regularly struggle with emotional regulation may have random mood swings or outbursts.

In a way, then, these happy tears protect you by giving some balance to extreme feelings that could otherwise impact your emotional health. In other words, crying can be helpful when you feel so overwhelmed that you don’t know how to begin to calm down.

When you cry for any reason, you send a message to anyone who can see you (whether you want it or not). The act of crying lets others know that your emotions have overwhelmed you, which in turn can indicate that you need support or comfort.

“Sure,” you might think, “who doesn’t want to be comforted when they’re feeling sad or stressed?”

But when you’re completely happy, you may also want some support. More specifically, investigate 2009 suggests that you want to bond with others over those extreme emotions you’re experiencing, from happiness to joy to even love.

Human beings are, in general, social creatures. This social character can influence the desire to share intense experiences and seek solidarity and consolation in both good times and bad. The happy cry, then, can be a way of saying, “Please share this wonderful moment.”

The authors of the study mentioned above also point out that tears can signal the magnitude or importance of certain significant events, such as graduations, weddings or homecoming parties.

Crying tells everyone around you, “What’s happening right now means a lot to me.” In this way, crying serves an important social function, especially when you feel too overwhelmed to put a sentence together.

Many people dislike crying, even from happiness. You get a runny nose, a headache, and of course there are the inevitable stares from strangers when you’re lucky enough to be overwhelmed with emotion in public.

But crying actually has many benefits.

happy hormones

When you cry, your body lets go endorphins and oxytocin. These hormones can help relieve pain, improve your mood, and improve overall well-being.

And since tears can help you draw comfort and support from those around you, crying helps increase your sense of connection, which can improve your mood and overall well-being.

Crying with sadness and anger can help alleviate these emotions and can make your situation seem a little less bleak.

But when you cry with happiness, oxytocin, endorphins, and social support can magnify the experience and make you feel even better (and maybe cry some more).

emotional release

It’s also worth noting that many happy moments don’t happen by chance. Getting married, giving birth, graduating from high school or college, getting hired for your dream job – these accomplishments don’t come easily. To achieve these milestones, you will probably spend a lot of time, patience, and effort.

No matter how rewarding this job has been, chances are it has caused some stress. So crying can be the ultimate catharsis, or release, from this prolonged stress.

Other theory about happy crying suggests that these tears occur because your brain has trouble distinguishing between intense emotions.

When you experience a strong emotion like sadness, anger, or joy, a region of your brain known as the amygdala registers that emotion and sends a signal to the hypothalamus, another part of your brain.

The hypothalamus helps regulate emotions by sending signals to your nervous system. But it doesn’t tell your nervous system exactly what emotion you experienced, because it doesn’t know. Just know that the emotion was so extreme that you might have trouble handling it.

One of the many important functions of your nervous system is to help you respond to stress. When faced with a threat, the sympathetic branch of your nervous system prepares you to fight or flight.

Once the threat has subsided, the parasympathetic branch of your nervous system helps you calm down.

When your nervous system gets that signal from the hypothalamus that says “Hey, we’re a little overwhelmed here,” you know you need to step up.

An easy way to do this? It produces tears, which help you express intense emotions, both happy and sad, and help you recover from them.

Tears are a normal human response to intense emotions. While you’re more likely to cry in response to sadness, tears of joy are nothing unusual. Turns out they’re actually quite useful.


Crystal Raypole previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. His fields of interest include Asian languages ​​and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivism, and mental health. In particular, she is committed to helping decrease the stigma around mental health issues.