FINALLY, psychologists understand the happy cry

If you’ve ever heard good news and felt yourself start to well up, researchers now know why that is. (If that’s never happened to you, congratulations, you’re incredibly emotionally stable. Or a robot.)

Psychologist Oriana Aragon and her colleagues at Yale University ran a study to find out why seemingly positive events make us react with strong expressions of ‘negative’ emotions (like the happy cry), something that’s never been studied before.

They asked study participants to imagine different scenarios, such as their child graduating from university or greeting a loved one who’s back from battle. And they discovered that people who were moved to tears by positive news found it easier to adapt to and moderate intense emotions.

The researchers theorise that crying helps us to cope with the strength of our feelings. Says Aragon, ‘People may be restoring emotional equilibrium with these expressions. They seem to take place when people are overwhelmed with strong positive emotions, and people who do this seem to recover better from those strong emotions.’

They think this may also explain why some people smile when they’re sad or laugh when they’re nervous or in a serious situation like a funeral: we’re just trying to bring our feelings back into balance. They’ll be publishing their findings in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science and say that having a better understanding of how we express our emotions could help us to understand and relate to other people more easily.

So next time someone laughs at your pizza print onesie, just remember it’s not because they think you look ridiculous, it’s because they’re so excited just to be in your presence. Probably.

Image via Michael’s Flickr.

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Diane Shipley