Pleasure Practices with Sami Schalk: Have a cathartic happy cry

Feel-good TV shows that will help you reconnect to your humanness.
Illustration: A person with long hair lying on their stomach, crying but smiling, surrounded with icons of large tears and Kleenex boxes. Illustration by Rachal Duggan.

Feel-good TV shows that will help you reconnect to your humanness.

Goodness, the recent days of gray and rain and snow have been hitting me hard after that little taste of warmth and sun. My capacities have been low so I’ve been listening to podcasts under the covers and watching feel-good TV. Sometimes, when I’m feeling down for no particular (or no solvable) reason, simply feeling the weight of pandemic grief on a cold rainy day, I like to have a good cathartic cry.

A cathartic cry is an emotionally-based cry versus one produced by physical pain or discomfort. A cathartic cry is a release of strong feelings—positive, negative, or a complicated mix. For instance, at the graduation of a person you’ve known since they were a baby, you might cry with joy and pride as well as with some sadness that they’re headed off away from home. Crying releases endorphins and oxytocin into our bodies which help with pain and stress relief. It’s good for us to cry despite how much our culture discourages outward expressions of strong feelings. 

I use cathartic crying as a pleasure practice, purposefully engaging things that make me happy cry in order to get that hormonal release. It’s a way I feel connected to my humanness when the daily grind has me disconnected from myself and others. A sure-fire way to make me happy cry is to curl up on my couch and watch something intentionally feel-good and uplifting. Here are a few shows I’d recommend:

  1. Lizzo’s Watch Out For The Big Grrrls (Amazon Prime): I’m obviously a Lizzo fan so when this show dropped I binged it immediately. I cried in every single episode. Sometimes multiple times. Lizzo updates the reality-show format, taking 10 fat women (mostly Black, some queer, and one trans) into a house to compete for 10 spots to perform with her at Bonaroo. Theoretically, everyone could win. Lizzo makes “no toxicity” a rule in the house and not only challenges the participants’ dancing skills, but also takes them on journeys of self-love and self-worth. If you are fat, a woman of color, or someone who needs a reminder of your value in a world that doesn’t love you back, check out this one.
  2. We’re Here (HBO): We’re Here follows Bob the Drag Queen, Shangela, and Eureka O’Hara (all from RuPaul’s Drag Race) as they go into small or rural towns across the country to put on drag shows with their local volunteer “drag children.” The show highlights the importance of queer community as well as how hard it still is for so many queer and trans people to exist safely. The participants, who are diverse in terms of major identity markers, are sometimes closeted, newly out, or afraid to be unapologetically out in their hometowns where social isolation, familial rejection, and violence are real consequences. The show doesn’t turn away from the realities of homophobia, transphobia, or racism, and yet each episode had me bawling with joy and hope. If you’re a tender-hearted queer/trans person or a queer/trans person who grew up in a small town or rural space, this show will likely give you that cathartic emotional release.
  3. Pooch Perfect (ABC/Hulu): There’s only one season of this incredibly silly fun show that my partner and I ate up last year. They canceled it, but you can still check out the one season. The show has dog groomers and their assistants (many of whom are queer, bonus) grooming dogs in absolutely over-the-top ways. One of the pairs (Deb Compton and her son) is from Fitchburg! Despite this show being full of dad-joke-level puns, somehow it still made me cry most episodes. I recommend this one for animal people and queer creatives.
  4. Making It (NBC/Hulu/Amazon Prime): This is an arts-and-crafts show hosted by Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman (previously on Parks And Recreation together). This is a friendly competition show where you watch creative people do something they really love and do it well. Every time I watch it I’m inspired to try to create something for my home (and sometimes I’m successful)! But it also frequently makes me at least well up watching folks recognized for their creative talents and efforts. This show is probably best crying material for artists/makers (and wanna-be artists/makers) and people who want to imagine Nick Offerman telling them “good job.”

So grab a box of tissues and let it all out, my friends. Have a cathartic happy cry. Allow yourself the full range of emotions and take pleasure in your humanity. Because badass bitches cry too!

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