What do we learn from sad moments

Why do we cry with happiness?

A sporting success, the birth of your own offspring or going to the altar: it is by no means just sad moments that move us to tears. Why is that so?

Well, maybe crying isn't an expression of sadness - as is commonly assumed - but rather of powerlessness. For example, some people begin to cry when they experience unbridled, helpless anger in a conflict. As early as the 17th century, the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes suspected that children cry more often because they feel more helpless.

To test this hypothesis, my colleagues and I asked students from 35 countries to describe the circumstances under which they had last cried. In fact, it was often the case that during tearful moments, participants would feel angry and passed out, or that they would feel sad and powerless. When people cry with happiness, something very similar could happen: overwhelmed by happiness, they do not know how to react and express their joy.

Are there any real "tears of joy"?

According to another theory, people generally don't cry for joy. If tears flow in an actually happy situation, it is only because there is a sad story behind all the happiness. The Dutch dressage rider Anky van Grunsven, for example, wept bitterly when she was presented with her Olympic gold medal at the award ceremony in Athens. She later explained: Her father had passed away two months earlier and she had cried because she couldn't share that moment with him. It is possible that with sporting triumphs it is not the joy but the past privation that makes tears flow.

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According to this, especially those who have gone through a difficult time due to injuries, public criticism or problems with qualification should cry. When the tension subsides after the victory, nothing can hold back the tears.

It could be similar in other life situations: If the tears flow when you meet again, it may be because you also have to think about the long time of separation and loneliness. At a wedding, it may be the grief of leaving another phase of life behind and breaking away from the parental home.