For as long as I can remember, I've cried like I just got done chopping onions during certain movies.
Whether at home or in a theater, I just can't seem to hold back the waterworks when watching more powerful, poignant or emotive films.
But I feel no shame about this whatsoever. I'm perfectly content admitting I've cried in front of family, friends, significant others and even complete strangers during countless movies.
After all, who could blame anyone for shedding tears when Mufasa dies in "The Lion King"? It's devastating!
And if you don't get choked up during "Remember the Titans," I question whether you're human or robot.
Research suggests around 92 percent of people have been reduced to tears during at least one movie. So apparently I'm not alone when it comes to heading to the local theater and having a good cry.
Even still, the fact remains many people have been conditioned to believe crying is a sign of weakness. This is particularly true for men, who grow up hearing things like "boys don't cry," which leads them to think anything other than stoicism is completely unacceptable.
But, regardless of the context, none of us should ever hide our tears. There is nothing shameful or embarrassing about crying, it's part of what makes us human.
Take pride in your tears, as there's evidence crying during movies has a number of hidden benefits and can make us more empathetic, sociable and generous.
Empathy is a vital aspect of emotional intelligence -- an ability prominent among great leaders and highly successful individuals.
In other words, if you cry at movies, you're likely fantastic with people and an emotionally strong person, further disproving the notion it signifies weakness.
Empathy makes us better, stronger human beings.
Research shows fiction, in both literary and cinematic forms, greatly improves peoples capacity for empathy.
This makes a lot of sense because truly engaging fiction permits us to step into a character's shoes and envision a different reality, perhaps far more difficult and trying than our own.
In turn, we become more open-minded and understanding individuals, making us increasingly compassionate in our interactions with others.
To borrow from Roger Ebert:
We live in a box of space and time. Movies are windows in its walls. They allow us to enter other minds, not simply in the sense of identifying with the characters, although that is an important part of it, but by seeing the world as another person sees it.
Much of this has to do with the way our brains are hardwired.
Movies are designed to impact us on an emotional level and they frequently succeed in this endeavor.
When we watch films with highly emotional content, it releases oxytocin -- a potent hormone that also behaves as a neurotransmitter in the brain.
Oxytocin is what helps us connect with other humans and compels us to be more empathic, loving, trusting and unselfish individuals.
Paul J. Zak, a neuroeconomist at Claremont Graduate School, is a world-renowned expert on oxytocin, which he has dubbed the "moral molecule."
In an experiment conducted by one of his graduate students, participants were shown a video from St. Jude Children's Hospital in Memphis, TN.
One half of the group saw a portion of the video in which a father discusses the terminal brain cancer of his young son, Ben. The other half watched a part where Ben and his father visited the zoo.
The portion of the video in which Ben's cancer was discussed was obviously more difficult to watch and produced a more emotional response.
But the participants who watched it exhibited a 47 percent increase of oxytocin as measured in blood, which also proved to alter their behavior in positive ways.
Afterward, all of the participants were asked to make choices involving money and other people.
Ultimately, the individuals who watched the more emotional segment were far more likely to be generous to strangers and give money to charity.
Interestingly, those who donated money were also palpably happier than those who didn't.
What this all suggests is we cry during emotional movies because of oxytocin, which makes us feel more connected with the characters while increasing levels of empathy, altruism and even fulfillment.
As Zak explains:
Oxytocin makes us more sensitive to social cues around us. In many situations, social cues motivate us to engage to help others, particularly if the other person seems to need our help. ...So, go see a movie and laugh and cry. It's good for your brain, and just might motivate you to make positive changes in your life and in others' lives as well.
Highly expressive individuals are often perceived as ill-suited to contend with the harsh realities of the world.
As it turns out, however, they're emotive tendencies are a tremendous source of strength, making them some of the best people you'll ever encounter.
If the eyes are the window to the soul, tears are the Windex: They keep things in perspective.
Tears are a beautiful manifestation of the potency and range of our emotions, as we produce them during both times of great pain and excessive joy.
There's a reason many of us end up reaching for the tissues not only during profoundly sad movie scenes but also the more triumphant and happy ones.
We were never meant to neglect our emotions or hold our feelings in, or we wouldn't experience them in the first place.
More often than not, crying is good for you. It can be very cathartic and helps reduce stress, often providing a boost to our moods.
Not crying is actually proven to increase stress, which can eventually have a negative impact on our physical health.
Not to mention, without tears, we literally wouldn't be able to see. They help us maintain our eyesight by providing vital lubrication for our eyelids and eyeballs.
Simply put, tears grant us sight and strength in both a figurative and literal sense, or as Victor Hugo once put it:
Those who do not weep, do not see.
So if you find salty discharge emanating from your eyes at any point in time in the near future, don't despair, embrace it -- it will help you in the long run.
Citations: How Stories Change The Brain (Greater Good), Why We Cry at Movies (Psychology Today), 7 Good Reasons To Cry Your Eyes (PBS), The Science of Weepies Why We Love Crying at the Movies (Daily Beast), Can Classic Moral Stories Promote Honesty in Children (Psychological Science), Which Movies Make Grown Men Cry (FiveThirtyEight), A Crying Shame (Psychology Today), Why We Cry (APA)