Tears of Joy: The Four Types

When was the last time you cried with joy? Few experiences are more intense, healing, and comforting. So don't hold back. There are four types of tears of joy, and it's worth experiencing them all!
Tears of Joy: The Four Types
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

Tears of joy connect you to life, people, and your most enriching emotions. Letting yourself experience these intense sensations does you good. So don’t suppress them. Don’t hide those emotions that allow you to experience something inspiring or those that connect you to someone you love.

When was the last time you cried because you were carried away by a moment of happiness? If you can’t really remember, you should think about making some changes in your life. In fact, tears of joy signify the height of well-being and are the essence of positive and enriching moments. Indeed, it’s an exercise in happiness when you foster and encourage these kinds of moments.

Interestingly, science reveals that there are four types of positive tears. Knowing how to identify them means you’ll be aware of each different type. Therefore, you’ll be able to nurture each individual sensation and enjoy your life, your relationships, and the world around you much more.

A woman laughing.

Crying is cathartic

Why do people cry? If you asked that question to a passer-by in the street, they’d probably say “Because they’re sad and also because it allows them to vent sorrow and inner suffering “. Indeed, many people believe that crying is related to the unkindest parts of life, such as emotional and, of course, physical pain.

However, there are also tears of joy that you experience when something really excites you. In fact, it’s a part of being human to cry and, on average, you cry more out of happiness than heartbreak.

Studies such as those conducted by Dr. Oriana R. Aragon of Yale University suggest that the act of crying has no other purpose than to be cathartic.

Tears make certain points in life more intense and they act as natural painkillers. Indeed, in cries of both sadness and joy, the endorphin enkephalin is released. This has the function of reducing pain and fostering a sense of well-being.

Another interesting theory about tears of joy is that, when you cry, the brain doesn’t know whether they’re sad or happy tears. Because, for the brain, both are high-intensity states of emotion and both activate the parasympathetic nervous system in order to make you relax. It does this by releasing acetylcholine, a type of neurotransmitter that activates your tears.

Four people laughing.

Tears of joy: the different types

There’s increasingly more research on this particular subject. In fact, a new study at Cornell University revealed that there are four types of tears of joy. So there are four situations driven by positive emotions that make you cry.

Tears of affection

Love is the most overwhelming emotion. You can so easily experience that exciting feeling where a sudden word, gesture, hug, or shared moment makes you cry.

The same thing happens with tenderness. For example, when you cuddle a baby, or your pet does something exceptionally cute, and between your laughs you find yourself crying.

The thrill of triumph

When you win a game or a race or any sporting event. Or when you achieve victory, overcome adversity, pass an exam, or get the job after an interview.

Tears of joy can also arise on those occasions when you achieve something after a great deal of time, effort, and sacrifice. Indeed, doing better than you expected is intensely exciting.

Inspiration and beauty: tears for what inspires and captivates

Sunrise over the sea. Aerial views of an outstandingly beautiful place. Seeing your favorite piece of art. Going to the theatre to enjoy a play that leaves you speechless with joy.

Going to a concert of your favorite singer or band and hearing that piece of music that delights you. Indeed, tears of joy are nourished by the aesthetic, the natural, and the cultural.

Tears of joy and shared laughter

There’s nothing much more satisfying than crying with laughter. Laughing loudly with all the people you love. Laughing until your ribs hurt. Literally laughing until you cry. Can there be anything better?

Surely not. Because it’s in those moments when genuine enjoyment and positive emotions flow, along with a sense of humor, that you find true happiness.

It’s worth reflecting on how long it’s been since you cried in any of the above situations. Love, humor, inspiration, personal satisfaction… All of these elements map out and establish genuine psychological well-being. Furthermore, you have the ability to foster these kinds of positive emotional moments at your fingertips. You should try to experience some every day.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Aragón, O. R., Clark, M. S., Dyer, R. L., & Bargh, J. A. (2015). Dimorphous Expressions of Positive Emotion: Displays of Both Care and Aggression in Response to Cute Stimuli. Psychological Science26(3), 259–273. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797614561044
  • Zickfeld, Janis, Beate Seibt, Ljiljana B. Lazarevic, Iris Zezelj, and Ad Vingerhoets. (2020). A Model of Positive Tears. PsyArXiv. November 8. Preprint.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.