“I suppose I’ve always done my share of crying, especially when there’s no other way to contain my feelings. I know that men ain’t supposed to cry, but I think that’s wrong. Crying’s always been a way for me to get things out which are buried deep, deep down. When I sing, I often cry. Crying is feeling, and feeling is being human. Oh yes, I cry.” ~Ray Charles
We cry at funerals, which makes total sense, right? We are sad, so we cry. Seems logical enough. But then why do we also cry at weddings, at our kids’ graduations and even when we get especially involved in a good rom-com movie? It’s part of human nature – an expression of emotion, right?
Have you ever wondered why we cry when we’re happy? Well, there is a scientific explanation. A psychiatry researcher at the Penn State College of Medicine has some answers for you. Dr. Jordan Lewis says that when we are overwhelmed by our emotions, our brains can’t always tell the difference between happiness and sadness.
The Swaddle reports:
The hypothalamus, an almond-sized part of our brains, simply responds to the strong, neural signals from the amygdala, which is in charge of registering our emotional reactions. And this response involves the activation of the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us calm down by releasing the neurotransmitter acetylcholine that, basically, leads to tear-production.
Another explanation is that crying helps in the regulation of extreme emotions. Research suggests that we experience emotions so intense that they become unmanageable and overwhelming — even if the emotions in question are joy, elation, or gratitude — we cry in a bid to immediately release these emotions, and begin the process of calming down. Experts believe that tears reflect feelings that cannot be expressed, or consummated, through other behaviors.
Another explanation suggests that major life events like graduation, or getting a job one always dreamt of, or the joy of seeing one’s child for the first time, which often prompt tears, are also preceded by prolonged periods of stress and hard work that ultimately lead to these milestones. As such, crying acts as the “ultimate catharsis, or release, from this prolonged stress.”