Why Do We Cry When We're Happy?

tearsofjoyI don’t know about you but as an adult I’ve become a much bigger cry baby then I was when I was a kid. Okay I totally cried when Thomas J died in My Girl, but aside from bursting into tears when being punished by my parents my eyes were pretty much dry. Now it doesn’t even take the rain scene with Noah and Allie in The Notebook to get me going. I cry during sentimental commercials and more often than not find myself crying when I’m happy. But why?

Crying is usually associated with the emotion of sadness. It is also thought of something that a person does when they are stressed or overwhelmed. So when we are happy why does are body respond the same way as it does when we’re morose? You’ve heard the colloquial expression tears of joy, but that isn’t exactly accurate. According to Psychology Today, our brain can’t decipher the difference between all of these emotions.

“All it knows is that it’s getting a strong neural signal from the amygdala, which registers our emotional reactions, and that it must, in turn, activate the autonomic nervous system.” The ANS is the involuntary nervous system.

Basically the ANS is divided into two parts, one of which is the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps the body calm down and is connected to our tear ducts. When the aparasympathetic receptors are activated by the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, tears are produced.

Then there’s a lot of science mumbo jumbo but it basically breaks down to: “emotional crying may be a reflexive response to the uncontrollable world around us.”

Tears of joy may be a misnomer, but in a world where there are pills to make us happy, apathetic, and numb it’s nice to know that our bodies can still feel something. I’ll take crying when I’m happy over feeling nothing any day.

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