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“What soap is for the body, tears are for the soul”

Gwyneth Paltrow letting it all out at the 1999 Oscars

Crying is “quintessentially human”, says Arthur Brooks in The Atlantic. Many animals call out when they’re in distress; only we weep “for emotional reasons”. But there’s also something inherently contradictory about shedding tears: “it can accompany the most profound grief or the deepest joy”. It is perhaps no accident that the shortest verse in the Bible is just two words: “Jesus wept.” Coming after the death of Lazarus, the tears are seen as a sign of “God’s solidarity with humanity” – of experiencing “both our joys and our sorrows”.

Crying is often viewed as “an expression of wild emotion”, but in fact the reverse is true: tears are a “powerful tool to tame our feelings”. When we’re desperately sad, crying helps “bring us back to equilibrium”. It’s the same with tears of happiness – after all, “ongoing rapture would be exhausting”. Researchers aren’t sure how exactly crying keeps extreme emotions in check. Some think it’s because tears eliminate stress hormones such as cortisol; others that they “clear blood of certain toxins or unwanted chemicals”. Whatever the explanation, there’s clearly something in the Jewish proverb: “What soap is for the body, tears are for the soul.”