Join the blub: The benefits of crying

We're always told that a good cry will make us feel better. So why not get together and let the tears flow?

Take a look at the self-help section at your local bookshop. You'll find an array of brightly coloured books with the word "happiness" on the spine: Twelve Steps to Happiness, Happiness is a Choice, The Happiness Makeover. Everyone wants to be happy. In America, it's a constitutional right - life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We're constantly told of the therapeutic value of laughter, but what about crying? There's a Jewish saying: "What soap is for the body, tears are for the soul."

Is there truth in this? The last time Britain saw a mass outpouring of lachrymal secretion was at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, and that was more like mass hysteria than genuine sadness.

Today, we're more interested in chasing the happiness rainbow. We feel that if we're not relentlessly, deliriously joyful, our lives have somehow failed. In the West, laughter clubs are now all the rage. These originated in India in 1995, when a physician who had read about the positive effects of laughter gathered people to stand around and force the chuckles. Soon, London and the rest of the world caught on.

In Japan, however, crying is all the rage. The Japanese call it the "crying boom" - everyone wants a bit of sadness in their lives. Instead of going to a karaoke bar after work to wind down, businesspeople watch weepy films (called "tear films") at these crying clubs. There is also a huge demand for sad TV dramas and books, each graded by its ability to induce tears.

Unfortunately, little research has been done on the benefits of crying. There's something dubious about stimulating tears in people. What do you do; tell them their mother has died, and "can you weep into this test tube, please?" Tough to get that one past the ethical review board.

On the other hand, a lot has been written about the therapeutic value of laughter. It lowers stress-hormone levels, increases levels of some immunoglobulins (antibodies) and lowers blood pressure. Laughter gives the facial, abdominal and back muscles and diaphragm a good workout - which explains why you may ache all over after leaving a comedy club.

But laughter has a dark side. You might think that most asthma attacks are triggered by pollen, dust mites and mould, but you'd be wrong. Laughter is actually the most common trigger, according to a study conducted by Dr Stuart Garay at the New York University medical centre.

If laughter and crying are just two ends of the spectrum of human emotions, why do we elevate one and denigrate the other? The novelist Kurt Vonnegut wrote: "Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward." We can forgive Vonnegut his preference for laughter; he did witness the destruction of Dresden, so he's probably had his fill of misery. But couldn't the rest of us benefit from a few more tears?

By this, I mean emotional tears. There are three types of tears: continuous tears, which stop our eyes drying up; reflex tears, caused by irritants such as smoke; and emotional tears (or "psychogenic lachrymations", the medical term). The emotion needn't be sadness; people shed emotional tears out of frustration, anger, relief, sometimes even in an aesthetic experience such as the birth of a child or the unveiling of the latest Lamborghini.

We know that crying emotional tears has a social function in that it brings us closer together. We learn as babies that crying draws attention, and that the louder that we cry, the more attention we get.

"Crying is a social tool," says Dr Simon Moore, the academic leader in psychology at London Metropolitan University, "but if it was just a social tool, people wouldn't cry in private. Crying must serve some sort of physiological service."

A few years ago, William Frey II, a biochemist at the St Paul-Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis, found that emotional tears have 24 per cent more protein than reflex tears. Tears aren't just salt water; they contain leucine enkephalin, an endorphin that modulates pain, and hormones such as prolactin and adrenocorticotropic hormone, released at times of stress. Could tears be the body's way of flushing out excess stress hormones?

Research has shown that people suffering from stress-related conditions, such as colitis and ulcers, are less likely to have a positive attitude to crying. Is crying a safety valve? Frey believes it may well be.

In an effort to shed stress hormones, I attended an evening of "misery, melancholy, sadness, absence and loss" at Britain's first crying club, called Loss. The event, in the old wine-cellars of Hedges and Butler, just off Regent's Street in London, is aptly sponsored by Hendrick's gin - gin being the queen of maudlin drinks.

The host, Viktor Wynd, says the idea for the club came from the Günter Grass's novel The Tin Drum. Grass's fictional club is called the Onion Cellar. Unlike Grass's club, this one has both music and a bar. In one cellar, a Fado singer belts out a melancholic tune. The crowd look like they're just back from a Victorian funeral. It's all suitably elegiac - but no one is crying. I ask one punter, Julia, why she is dry-eyed. "I'm not going to cry," she says from behind a long black fringe. "It'll ruin my make-up." So does Julia believe in crying? "A cry is good for everyone... get it out with friends. Boys are learning to get it out too."

At midnight, Viktor produces a set of lethal-looking knives. Like the Onion Cellar in The Tin Drum, we have onions to chop. This may seem like a cheat, but laughing clubs start off with forced chuckles, crescendoing into genuine laughter. You have to kick-start events somehow.

On a table, I chop the greenest onions I can find. Soon, tears are streaming down my face. At the next table, the DJ and club promoter Wade Crescent is busy signing his divorce papers in the presence of a lawyer and an entourage who look like they've stepped off the set of The Addams Family. In the background, a Marlene Dietrich lookalike sings "Falling in Love Again". It's all too beautiful. I feel the tears run down my face... but are they irritant tears or aesthetic tears? I'm not sure.

I soak up the heaviness of the atmosphere, but I notice that very few people are shedding tears. Perhaps we've lost the ability to cry. Grass called the 20th century the "tearless century", but it looks like the 21st might be drier still.

When I mention this lack of public crying to Dr Moore, he says: "Our emotions are culturally bound. There are definitely cultural differences in the way we show emotions. In England, we are quite restricted. We tend not to show the full range of emotions in public because it's not the done thing." Perhaps public crying (except on the football pitch) will never catch on here. But if the famously reserved Japanese can do it, surely we can? Crying is not pathological; it's cathartic, healthy. So come on, cry me a river.

For details of Loss events, go to www.thelasttuesdaysociety.org

The lowdown on lachrymation

* Humans are the only creatures known to shed emotional tears, though it has been suggested that elephants and gorillas might. Other mammals produce reflex and basal tears. Salt-water crocodiles also shed tears, but only to rid themselves of excess salt water.

* It is often believed that depressed people cry a lot, but researchers at Stanford University found that depressed people are no more likely to weep at a sad movie than non-depressed people.

* Although babies cry a lot, they don't actually shed tears until they are several weeks old.

* The most mournful tune, according to the psychologist John Sloboda, is Rachmaninoff's Second Symphony.

* The presence of the hormone prolactin is thought to be the reason women cry, on average, five times as much as men. At the age of 18 women have 60 per cent more prolactin than men.

Life and Style
tech
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    English Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day + Pay between ?110 - ?130 Day: Randstad Education Cardiff:...

    SAP Deployment Manager

    £480 per day + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Deployment Manager-Ta...

    Microsoft Dynamics CRM Consultant

    £50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Urgently seeking a Dynam...

    Test Lead - Financial Reporting - Banking - London

    £350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Test Lead, London, Banking, Financial Reporting, ...

    Day In a Page

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game