“You better choose how you shed your tears wisely. They soon run out.”

My grandmother was not always the best in giving lovable admonitions but she was great at getting straight to the point. And while her advice was less than scientific, she did have a reason for dishing it out.

See, God gave the women in my family defective tear ducts. We can cry at the drop of a dime or at the sound of babies crying. We are a mess at everything from weddings to kindergarten graduations. We just are.

Now, it’d be easy to chalk all the running mascara and puffy eyes to genetics, but all it takes is one look at my grandmother while we are in the midst of our tear fests to know that that would be a lie. My grandmother told me once that I had a blessed childhood and was lucky to be able to cry at whim. Apparently, when she was younger tears were luxuries.  So by my count (I’ve been keeping it since the first summer I spent in Spanish Town) that’s liquor, rice, canned sausages, sardines, Milo, all American goods and tears.

Following my grandmother’s rhetoric, frugality can be applied not only to imported goods but to emotions as well. And while her guidance may have seemed rough around the edged at the time, it turns out she was, once again, right. Reporting on a new study from the Journal of Research in Personality (which actually does exist, I promise), TIME writer Meredith Melnick explains that crying is not nearly as cathardic as once thought. In fact, in the study 61% of the women said that crying did not make them feel any better.

Still, tears serve a purpose, and not in the windshield liquid model my grandmother explained to me as a little girl. They are meant for us to show emotion, they just don’t heal the source of the pain we feel. They are a great indicator of our ability to feel deeply. And as deeply as you can feel pain, you can feel joy resonate through your soul as well.

The poet, Khalil Gibran writes:

“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”

Today, know that tears don’t heal but they can dig a trench. Allow that new space to fill with joy and feel it as deeply as you had your pain.

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  • whilome

    I was born with clogged tearducts. I would cry as an infant, but no tears would stream down my face. At an early age, I had surgery and still bear the scars on my cheeks.

    Growing up, I decided to appreciate my tears whenever I felt like it. I well up at the sight of a beautiful child, I weep if Bambi mother dies or they free Willy. I mist over in the midst of a conversation if someone says something profound. I’m a waterpot, and I’m okay with it.

    My tears are related to my compassion and empathy for my fellow man. I’ll cry for you or with you. But, mind you, those tears aren’t a wellspring of pity. I won’t feel sorry for you or myself for too long. I wipe my eyes and get to what needs to be gotten to. Posthaste.

    My scars have faded and I have to look carefully in the mirror to see the faint slash under each eye. But they remind me not to take my sight, my tears, or my feelings for granted. There are enough tears to spare. For a while.

  • nnaattaayy

    Growing up I my family didn’t tolerate crying and I think that’s why today I hate it whenever I cry. I always try to stop the tears. Which is really hard for me because I’m such a sensitive person. My mom would always yell or get angry at me when I cry, and my brother made me feel worse- he said crying was a sign of weakness (essentially called me weak). Gee sorry I that I’m a human being that has feelings… :'(

  • They may not get to heal the source of the pain, but tears certainly do help sometimes. Not as much with broken hearts, but with disappointment, stress, and other things that make us cry, tears seem to relieve a source of pressure from somewhere inside.