There’s something in my eye: why we happy-cry and what it does for us

The first, achievement tears, occur when someone shows extraordinary skill or performance, attains a well-deserved success, or overcomes a big obstacle. This might include winning an Olympic medal, being admitted to a prestigious study programme, or recovering from a severe illness. These tears might involve feelings of pride for one’s own accomplishments or admiration when observing the achievements of others.

Affectionate tears occur when someone experiences or observes a special sense of closeness or communality. Reuniting with an old friend you haven’t seen for many years or holding your newborn baby for the first time are typical examples. Such tears are part of the feeling of ‘kama muta’ – that intense state of feeling moved by love. Along with achievement events, these are some of the most common forms of happy tears: we found that 84 per cent of reports were either achievement or affectionate tears or both (for instance, observing an important achievement of your own child can involve both a sense of achievement and feelings of affection).

By Janis Zickfeldis, Aarhus University in Denmark for Psyche Magazine

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