”I think the older I get, the more emotional I become. The video of the storks & that kind man tending to them and giving him a reason for living, left me a bit teary-eyed. Such kindness here.”
In another item in Saturday's potpourri, reader Kate Gilpin told us about how the musical flash mob similarly affects her:
”I have always found that [this flash mob] actually brings me to tears,” she wrote, “because of the amazing sense of community it illustrates.”
It is something that, like Doug, I have noticed about myself in recent years – that I become weepy easily at sad stories, inspiring stories or any other kind of story, it sometime seems.
There doesn't appear to be much research or information on this phenomenon (if it is one) and when there is, too often the undocumented assumption is that it is a medical problem. In addition, the few articles are mostly about men becoming more weepy in old age, but not women.
Do you think that might be due to the fact that most of our lives we have lived in a macho culture that discourages men from crying in public but allows women to do so? I don't know. But I immediately related to both Doug M. and Kate Gilpin when I read their comments.
In one article at the website, A Place for Mom, five of six given reasons for why old men cry are ones that are not unlikely to require medical attention:
• Hormonal changes
• Previous trauma
• Depression, anxiety or mental illness due to aging
• Social isolation
• Health issues and medications
Since no one with any kind of expertise is cited in that story, let's ignore it and move on.
In an ambivalent piece in Psychology Today from 2011, the writer suggests that outsized reactions to important life events may increase with age:
”In circumstances in which strong emotions are aroused, older adults (of either gender) may not be able to regulate their emotions as well as younger people.”
Does the writer mean, do you think, that feeling strong emotions more frequently in old age is somehow a personal failure? Phooey.
Have you ever been so happy that you cried? I have. There seemed no other adequate response at the time and I think that is partly what Doug M. is getting at and Kate Gilpin too.
Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Professor Emerita of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, writing in Huffpost in 2015, says that the older we get, the more complex our emotions become and the more we are willing to live with mixed emotions.
”There’s no reason, then, to worry if you have those feelings in which joy and sadness become intermingled,” she wrote. “It doesn’t mean that you’re getting more depressed or losing control of your emotions.
“Take pride in your capacity to appreciate the subtleties of your emotional life, a feeling that should only add to your happiness and fulfillment.”
Now we're getting somewhere.
Five years ago, psychiatrist James S. Gordon, writing in the Washington Post admitted that he sometimes starts the day weeping. It just happens, he said, maybe while reading the morning paper. He went on:
”Almost 40 years ago, anthropologist Gregory Bateson — a pioneer in cybernetics and architect of the double bind theory of schizophrenia — wondered aloud to me if he were becoming more sensitive and affectionate as he moved into old age, more prone to tears.
“A few years later, playwright William Alfred, my former Harvard tutor and long-time friend, said something similar: poems which had once touched him now brought him to tears...”
For all the less-than-edifying copy I waded through to write this post. James S. Gordon is the most thoughtful and interesting. Even though he is writing about men, much of what he says feels right for me. Let's allow him to continue:
”Gregory, gifted observer of patterns, may have put his finger on it. Men may, as they age, indeed become more sensitive. I’ve noticed the changes in classmates at high school, college and medical school reunions, and in the e-mails we sometimes exchange, as well as in myself.
“The competitiveness, the real or assumed toughness of our youth is, as we age, being balanced; our Yang tempered by Yin.
“Perhaps social scientists will eventually find a way to exhaustively quantify the changes. Right now, though, it’s important simply to know what I and other men are seeing and feeling.
“We are more willing to admit to and feel the terrible pain of our losses; to weep in celebration of our own and other’s loving connections; to know and feel the threat that individual and collective greed and selfishness, and the fear that feeds them, pose to all of us and to generations beyond us.
“That our tender emotions are hopeful signs, not of weakness or pathology, but of a necessary and welcome growth — in our compassion, wholeness and, perhaps, our wisdom.”
Although it is clearly a question that could use more research, I think Gordon and Bateson are on to something. What do you think? Do you relate to any of this?