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Want to be happier? Have a good cry...apparently

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Ha ha ha. Laughter really is the best medicine.

… Or is it?

According to researchers in the Netherlands Journal of Motivation and Emotion, there’s nothing better than a good cry to cheer us right up.

Crying has always been known to cause a sense of relief, ridding our soul of the cobwebs which build up over long periods of stress or turmoil. But apparently it also makes us feel much happier. 

life is beautiful

Life is Beautiful, 1997

The scientists, led by Dr Asmit Gracanin of the University of Tilburg, recorded a group of 60 participants whilst they watched two tear-jerkers: Life is Beautiful and Hachi: A Dog’s Tale. The group was also interviewed about how they felt before and after each film.

Out of the group, 60% cried during Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, a film in which Richard Gere befriends a homeless dog, and 45% of participants cried watching Life is Beautiful, set in a Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War.

It was women who were more likely to cry during the films.

Those who remained dry-eyed said they felt no change in emotion after watching the films and those who cried reported feeling sadder than before the films began.

dogs tale

Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, 2009

However, around 20 minutes later, those who had cried felt better, and after 90 minutes, this group even felt elevated happiness levels – reportedly feeling happier than before watching the films. They were also reporting higher happiness levels than the dry-eyed group.

“After the initial deterioration of mood following crying, it takes some time for the mood not only to recover but also to be lifted above the levels at which it had been before the emotional event,” reports Dr Gracanin.

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The Notebook, 2004

One reason for these findings, according to Dr Gracanin, is that crying is thought to trigger the release of the positive brain chemical, oxytocin.

Another reason is that people could be making a conscious mental effort to feel better after crying.

Of course, the results are difficult to analyse, and there is always the possibility that people didn’t feel leagues happier than they did before, but merely thought they did, in comparison with the post-film blues.

Although many studies exist which show that laughter is good for our health, and that crying significantly lowers mood, Dr Gracanin has explained these inconsistencies by saying that those previous studies might not have taken into account the fact that it takes the brain a while to recover – hence the mood elevating after 90 minutes.

 “A good cry might go a long way to make you feel better,” said Dr Gracanin. 

Words: Harriet Hall

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