The most prevalent interpretation of “smile now, cry later” tattoos is to live life to the fullest now and worry about the repercussions later. Popular tattoo designs include skulls, bells, or stage masks with the words “smile now, cry later” written in cursive underneath the image.
“Smile now, cry afterwards” tattoos are popular in jails, signifying that inmates should keep their composure while incarcerated and cry after their release. A less common meaning of the tattoo is to honour the memory of a deceased loved one. This means that the wearer should smile today over pleasant recollections of the individual and grieve later over the sadness of their loss.