Crying for joy: why do we do it?

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Louise Hay

Crying for joy: why do we do it?

Crying with joy, smiling with sadness, laughing with nervousness. Do you know what these curious and, in some ways, unexpected reactions are due to? We find out in this article.

Last update: May 30, 2020

Crying is usually associated with feelings of loss, sadness, depression, or melancholy. We need tears to externalize our negative emotions such as suffering, frustration or anguish. Nevertheless, there are also situations in which to cry for joy, happiness, enthusiasm or relief is not wrong. All emotions, the latter, of a positive nature.

But how is this contradiction possible? How can a typically negative expression also be associated with positive moods? In this article we find out why crying with joy is good and why it happens.

Crossed emotions

We cry when they give us good news that we have been waiting for for a long time, when someone reveals their feelings to us or when we are taken by surprise. There are several occasions when a positive emotion leads us to react in such an apparently contradictory way.

A contradiction, in any case, which does not concern only and exclusively crying. We may feel the desire to pinch a child's cheeks that arouses tenderness or to bite (softly) the person we love. But everything also happens in reverse; sometimes, when faced with deep sadness, we unwittingly produce a smile or a nervous laugh.

These are automatic reactions with no apparent logic. Nevertheless, the association between positive emotions and negative expressions (and vice versa) fulfills a very important function.

Cry for joy. Why do we do it?

Restore balance

Oriana Aragón, a psychologist at Yale University, in the United States, has conducted several studies on this. They are called dimorphic expressions and indicate emotional manifestations opposed to the feeling you really feel.

These are not states of mind in which a positive and a negative emotion coexist (so called mixed expressions). Rather, we are talking about a positive emotion that chooses a negative expression to manifest itself. In the study conducted by this psychologist, a series of positive stimuli were presented to the participants in order to evaluate their reactions.

The results of the study showed that people who chose to use negative expressions to express their mood were more likely to moderate their intensity. What does it mean? That crying with joy is a strategy to restore balance in the face of an emotion that overwhelms us. Crying with joy manages to curb the impact of emotion by rebalancing the inner mood.

The question that arises spontaneously at this point is: Why do we hold back or limit a positive feeling? Faced with extreme happiness, the person can find himself displaced, overwhelmed. His ability to make decisions can therefore fail. Restoring balance by balancing the good news with a negative reaction is key to being able to regain control.


The tears of happiness are not only intended to maintain internal homeostasis, but also have an important communicative function. A study has shown that our response to someone who communicates their cheerfulness to us totally changes whether they do so by smiling or crying. In the first case, we tend to join in his celebration and share the exaltation, helping to prolong his emotion.

In reverse, in front of the cry of joy we tend to react in a way that helps the speaker, to regulate and decrease the level of emotional intensity they are feeling. We can perceive her emotional distress and react accordingly, helping to lower the intensity of the emotion.

Cry of happiness, bite out of love

In light of what has been discovered so far, the seemingly inexplicable behaviors humans tend to have are beginning to take on meaning. When we are hit disproportionately by a positive emotion (whatever it is), we are prompted to react in the opposite way to rebalance our inner levels.

In the same way, when we look at our partner, we can be hit by a love feeling strong enough to push us to bite his arm, shoulder or cheeks. By doing so, we are able to balance the emotional decompensation experienced.

So when you find yourself reacting sadly or aggressively to strongly positive experiences, don't worry. This is a necessary and absolutely normal mechanism. Similarly, when you see someone crying with joy, keep in mind that the happiness that the person feels is so intense that it elicits a different reaction than usual.

The tears show neither weakness nor drama. They are a direct expression of the great human capacity to feel emotions.

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