A Therapist Explains Why 'Happy Tears' Are Vital To Your Mental Health

Here’s the meaning behind the paradoxical sensation of crying when you are happy.

By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | May 1, 2023

Tears are a normal response to moments of pain, grief, and sadness. But it is also not uncommon to find people sniffling into their handkerchiefs on happy occasions, such as weddings, graduations, or upon learning about a hard-earned promotion.

This begs the question: Why do we cry when we are happy?

As infants and babies, crying is understood as a necessary behavioral act to solicit care and assistance. Transitioning into adulthood, we find tears to be triggered by a much broader range of emotions.

If you find yourself tearing up at events that are expected to elicit more smiles than tears, here are three theories to help you understand why.

#1. Your repressed feelings are triggered

No moment or event occurs as an isolated incident. Any milestone achieved or obstacle overcome is a result of a long journey.

To reap the benefits of your labor, you have probably endured prolonged stress and fought to overcome roadblocks that have likely been left unprocessed in the pressure to keep moving forward. It is thus possible that crying is the end reaction to a cascade of triggered, forgotten emotions.

This may be especially true when milestones or achievements bring with them a tinge of anxiety. Here are two examples:

  1. A parent may find themselves teary-eyed at their child's wedding because they are simultaneously happy for this new beginning but also nervous about losing their child to this change.
  2. An individual graduating from student to employee might be ecstatic about their academic merits while also stressed about performing at the new job and/or moving away from their friends.

#2. You are trying to communicate and connect

Overwhelming emotions can lead to knotted throats and brain-freeze moments. When one struggles with a loss of words, tears become a source of communication.

A study published in Frontiers in Psychology emphasizes how seeing one cry compels viewers to willingly offer comfort and empathetic support. Responding with care and kindness when seeing someone under duress is a basic human instinct.

Another study further breaks down the communicative nature of crying, showing that there are four main reasons why people shed positive tears. They are:

  1. Achievement tears. Expressing feelings of pride for someone overcoming obstacles or appreciating extraordinary feats or achievements.
  2. Beauty tears. Expressing awe when in the presence of unparalleled elegance, whether in people, art, music or nature.
  3. Affectionate tears. Expressing heartfelt gratitude for acts of unexpected kindness and/or gestures of love.
  4. Amusement tears. Responding to an especially funny situation and accompanied with laughter and giggles (i.e., "I'm laughing so hard I'm crying").

Happy tears typically convey a touching story or heartfelt moment with onlookers, the common denominator being the powerlessness and helplessness felt by all in the expanse of the emotions created.

#3. It helps you feel better, physically

Mental health advocates have worked tirelessly to normalize crying as a healthy coping mechanism, citing its many chemical and hormonal benefits such as the release of 'happy hormones' like oxytocin and endorphins.

The physical act of releasing an emotion out of the body, whether positive or negative, helps achieve physical and emotional homeostasis, suggests research published in Emotion Review.


Tears of joy are a natural and complex expression of our emotional experiences. Being stuck under the notion that crying is an unwanted, negative emotional state can leave you feeling confused about your tears of joy when, in fact, they are completely normal and even healthy.

However, if you find yourself breaking down in response to small triggers and/or feel embarrassed by your inability to regulate your emotions, it might be helpful to see a mental health professional to uncover the roots of your concerns.