I’m so proud of you :,)

A simple smile with a tear offers us a gentle alternative when emotions run high

When someone you cherish has just fully recovered from an illness 🥲

When a dog curls up with a cat friend 🥲

When a friend sends you a #tbt photo when you needed it most 🥲

When you’re feeling nostalgic about pre-COVID life like texting a friend that you’re on your way but really you haven’t gotten dressed yet 🥲

Whatever you call this feeling and however it is evoked a SMILING FACE WITH TEAR embodies a very real mishmash of emotions. In text-form it is also expressed with a (seemingly) mishmash of punctuation —colon comma parenthesis — :,) This common visual metaphor for when you’re grateful, empathetic, triumphant, hopeful became a Unicode debutant in 2019 and was officially encoded in January of 2020 as part of Emoji 13.0. 🥲🥲🥲🥲

Gently shedding a tear during moments of bliss is not a new viral sensation 🤪 Referenced in both the Old Testament and New Testament as well as ancient texts like the Mahabharata, the Sanskrit epic of ancient India. The Illiad — written nearly 3,000 years ago — describes Odysseus as unable to hold back a tear from rolling down his cheek when he finally sees his son. Yes, even Shakespeare describes Timon as crying with happiness, (“Mine eyes cannot hold out water, methinks” [Timon 1.2.106-07]), producing tears from his banquet guests, (“Joy had the like conception in our eyes, and at that instant like a babe sprung up,” says one.

That's because crying when you are overwhelmed with good vibes is a naturally occurring physical response that allows people to better recover from strong emotions. Most of the work I do isn't just asking questions about how or what people feel but asking the much harder questions about why. “These insights advance our understanding of how people express and control their emotions,” according to the Association for Psychological Science. “Which is importantly related to mental and physical health, the quality of relationships with others, and even how well people work together.”

“Smiling Face with Tear” is timeless, iconic, and globally relevant. And yet, text messages, tweets, or status updates without a little “:,)” just inexplicably falls short of conveying the same warmth when expressed on someone’s face or in their embrace. According to researchers from Tokyo Denki University in Japan, looking at faces crafted from colons and parentheses won’t trigger the parts of your brain that recognize faces but they do in the emotional area. As far as tu cabeza is concerned, emoticons straddle both verbal and non-verbal communication.

With such versatility and clear usefulness as an emoji, it is hard to believe that with over 100 smileys none of them convey the intended range of expression that comes with a simple smile with tear. Despite the moniker “Tears of Joy” (😂) the design of the emoji is very specifically “Tears of Laughter” which is awesome! We need a good emoji to indicate jkjkjkjkjkjkjk lolololol. It’s the most used emoji by a large margin. According to data compiled by Unicode’s Emoji Subcommittee, nearly one in ten emoji shares is “😂”! For the very reason why “Tears of Joy” is so useful is why “Smiling Face with Tear” has room to truly break new ground in your emoji palette.

The vast spectrum of expression that exists between ultimates like, “I am so happy I am rolling on the floor laughing 🤣” or “I am so proud of you 😭” or “That is a relief to hear 😩”. Smiling Face with Tear really appears to fill this gap and without being overly specific:

  • Weary Face 😩 is as close as as the Unicode Standard gets to conveying relief or “thank goodness” but it’s inherent weariness emphasizes the ‘stress’ more than the ‘relief’. (Turns out we have a lot of emoji that look like they could use some good news 😢😥😓😞😖😣😩😫😰😨😧)

  • Loudly Crying 😭 can be used to convey pride (As in: I’m so proud of you :ugly cry:) and the inherent drama makes it an effective metaphor but less appropriate for things that require a more delicate touch.

  • ROFL Face 🤣 Good for when watching Pineapple Express, less useful for A Field of Dreams

Online, when we speak with extreme emotion (think: “Shooketh” or “I’m screaming”) it sometimes means leaning on metaphor (aka memes) in the arms race for attention. For those moments where the metaphor you’re looking for is less intense you now have 🥲 at your fingertips. 🔠


Note: If you are seeing tiny boxes (known as tofus) in the above paragraphs I’m sorry to say your Operating System may be out of date 🤸🕳️ If you work for Substack I’m happy to chat about how to fix it 🎷🐛 lol