Why We Cry

woman crying

Ever wonder why we cry? Simply stated, we cry as a reaction to being happy or sad, but we all know it’s much more complicated than that. In fact, the question has been a topic of debate that’s perplexed philosophers as far back as the time of Aristotle, who believed that crying cleanses the mind of suppressed emotions.

There’s a huge spectrum of emotion that drives us to tears, and it’s a fickle business. We cry from frustration, elation, rage, sadness, loss and laughter, to name a few. There are moments in sappy movies or commercials designed to make us tear up and reach for the box of tissues.

And then there are moments that catch us off guard, like beholding something of great beauty, or witnessing a kindness amongst strangers.

Some people never cry, even during times of great loss; others can produce tears on command, like a party trick.

Why We Cry: A Method of Expression

Whatever the emotion behind it is, we cry as a way of expressing our feelings in lieu of words. Sometimes a person cries because he or she isn’t able to express what they are feeling, and sometimes it’s because words simply aren’t enough. How much, how often and why we cry varies by age, gender, personality and culture.

According to one German study, men cry, on average, six to 17 times a year compared to women’s 30 to 64 times. The sexes were also more apt to shed tears for different reasons: Men tend to cry over breakups or over empathy, while women weep in response to feelings of inadequacy, tough situations or remembering sentimental past events.

Why We Cry: An Emotional Release

Regardless of the reason, it’s healthy -- and common -- to cry; doing so can be an effective emotional tool. That’s because we get a sense of release when we cry. When emotions are running high, tears work to diffuse our feelings and give us an instant, natural way of coping. The act of crying leaves us feeling a little lighter -- more unburdened and resilient. While researchers still debate the benefits of crying, several studies, including a recent large international study of more than 5,000 people in 30 countries published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, have shown that both men and women felt better after a good cry.

So there’s no need to feel embarrassed when your emotions occasionally drive you to tears. Just grab a tissue and embrace a good cry, using it as a healthy tool to deal with your emotions -- both good and bad.

Photo by Aliyah Jamous on Unsplash

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by Irene S. Levine