Jim was reading in the living room when his younger daughter entered. She dropped onto the couch where he was sitting and let him know that his older daughter Diana lay in her room sobbing. Jim knocked on her door, but she didn’t want to talk. Earlier, after a miscommunication, he got after her, while he was in a fit of frustration. Later, her brother came in and chastised her for something else. The two events were more than she could bear and she fled to her room. Why should she be grateful for this burden put on her? What was great about this flow of tears?
The benefits of tears come from the reason behind them. There seems to be three main reasons why we cry. First, it is to dislodge particles or foreign objects in our eyes – such as a speck of dust or small motes in the air. Second, they may form in reaction to the environment, such as when we cut an onion. The third type is in response to an emotional event. While I am grateful for the biological reactions of the first two types of tears, I am especially thankful for emotional tears. Hopefully, I will be able to explain the why of it.
As I see it, emotional tears stem from two main sources: joy and loss. On the side of joy, I may shed tears when I have a high level of happiness for myself or for those I feel an emotional connection to – although I may not even know the person at all. A movie may show a protagonist struggling against enemies and obstacles as they work towards their main goal and when they have overcome all, I have to wipe the wet emotion from my face. Contrariwise to this, sadness, despair, and depression, which often entail some form of loss (real or perceived) also cause me to feel the effects of the situation. This is played up in stories and I often cry along with the characters as they experience their darkest moments.
Half of the reason that I feel gratitude for tears of joy is that they often come when I have gained something of value or I hear of another’s experience and it touches my heart because the experience is in line with one of my values. Often this happens when I hear of an example of selfless service. I am convinced that giving without a desire of reward is an expression of love of the highest order. Too often, my ego gets in the way of my giving and these stories are reminders that I can do and be better.
I am also grateful for tears from loss and fear as well. These two emotions come from a belief that something of value is being taken away. It is possible to say that there is no such thing as loss or gain, as all possessions, whether intellectual, emotional, or material are on a spectrum of ownership – some days I feel on top of my game and on others, it feels as if the world is out to sabotage me. However, nothing is static: it is all flux and change. The thing is that if I believe that I am losing value in an area of mylife, that is what makes the difference.
The other half of the reason that I am grateful for tears and crying is that they act as a release valve. While I know that there is some controversy on this, I think it is true for two reasons. First, the physical act – the sobbing, the shaking, and the physical crying becomes an like exercise for the emotions. Like a good workout, there is a sense of completion when it is over. The second reason is that I believe that tears act as a governor on my emotions. That is, they bring me back to a happy middle. They become a measure that the body has of keeping my emotions from entering too radical an extreme and bring them back into balance. That said, I don’t think there is anything wrong with feeling strong emotions and I need to feel deeply – just shouldn’t live there.