Laugh Until You Cry

My daughter caught wind of the expression, laugh until you cry,the other day and ever since, she has been asking me how this is possible.  "If you are laughing, you are happy so how can you be crying?"  At first, I responded by saying, "well sometimes you are so happy you just cry, it happened to me the other night in fact.  I was telling a hilarious story to a friend and by the end of it, she couldn't hear the story because I was crying so hard".  Her eyes widened, but the questions persisted.  My answers continued to be pretty vague and lame and she continued to think out loud about this question.

As her questions have evolved past "why?" to inquire about increasingly complex concepts, I've tried a few different approaches to answering them. I've used the "sometimes we are overtired and then we cry after we laugh really hard...",  make-it-up-as-you go along type response or I google "why is the sky blue" and give her a precis.  Occasionally, like when our cat died, I'll think: what would Caillou's parents say?  This time, I was stumped and I decided, just out of curiosity, that I would resist the itch to google "why do we laugh until we cry?" and just wonder "why" with her.  I asked her right back the next time she asked, "well, I don't know , what do you think?"  As it turns out, her answer was equally vague, as she puzzled it out: "sometimes we are so excited the tears just come."

I think about the times I've laughed so hard that I have cried; when I have trembled between the lightness of hearty mirth and a release that only tears can bring. Did I just need to cry about something or was laughing triggered in the first place by something that was funny because it was so rooted in a truth that it also makes you cry? Ever since I made this decision to resist checking other people's reasons, theories and scientific knowledge about this question, I have repeatedly had to slap my hand away from the search engine.  I know that there is likely some physiological rationale.  But in the end, laughing until I cry has been a deliciously inexplicable part of my experience of being alive.  So I've decided that, for now, my girl and I will answer the question for ourselves.  We'll probably do some experiments even.  We'll say "I know, let's make each other laugh today, let's make each other laugh so hard that we cry." Then we'll wonder why.

So, without checking your computer, what do you think? Why does laughing sometimes make you cry?


  1. I think she's right on the money with "sometimes we're so excited the tears just come". I only laugh so hard I cry if something is really funny but also embarrassing for me. I also only laugh until I cry if I am with other people. For example, if my sisters and I are together recounting a story or just being silly together.

    For me, there is usually more than something being funny on its own-- it is a connection with someone else or a previous hilarious situation being remembered. All that said, that is not a good explanation for a 6-year-old! Good luck! :)

  2. Blake McDonald1/09/2012 2:45 pm

    I think crying while laughing is much like crying when you are sad - its the bodies way of dealing with something so immediate it doesn't know how to what else to do. This is very similar to farting when can't control it, it just happens.


Post a Comment