Susan Cain’s ‘Bittersweet’ Explores the Upside of Sadness

Susan Cain’s ‘Bittersweet’ Explores the Upside of Unhappiness

Have you ever ever questioned why we love unhappy songs, or get choked up at a “Thanks, Mother” Olympics business? Questions like these have been the impetus for Susan Cain’s new guide, “Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Complete.”

“Bittersweetness is the hidden supply of our moonshots, masterpieces and love tales,” writes Ms. Cain, who believes that we expertise our deepest states of affection, happiness, awe and creativity exactly as a result of life is imperfect, not regardless of that truth. On the coronary heart of her exploration is the naming and reframing of her titular paradox: that there is no such thing as a bitter with out candy.

“Bittersweet,” which is an element memoir and partly a have a look at neuroscience, psychology, spirituality, faith, epigenetics, music, poetry and artwork, makes a case for the underappreciated “curiously piercing pleasure at the great thing about the world” inside a tradition of relentless optimism. The guide goals to clarify that irrepressible lump in our throat spurred by seeing a picture of our highschool grad as a grinning toddler.

“The disappointment from which compassion springs is a pro-social emotion, an agent of connection and love,” she writes. And this “happiness of melancholy” has a physiological signature and rationalization.

It seems, Ms. Cain writes, that the vagus nerve — the constellation of nerves that connects the mind stem to the throat and the stomach and is liable for digestion, respiratory and coronary heart price — can be related to compassion within the face of disappointment, our intuition to guard our younger and want to expertise pleasure.

Fittingly, the oldest, most instinctive a part of our nervous system, which developed in order that we had the required empathy to answer our underdeveloped newborns, Ms. Cain signifies, can be the location of the very sadness-joy-survival continuum that makes us human.

Ms. Cain, who can be the creator of “Quiet: The Energy of Introverts in a World That Can’t Cease Speaking,” mentioned the significance of sorrow and extra within the edited interview beneath.

What would you want folks to grasp about being open to or celebrating emotions like disappointment and longing?

S. C.: We’d do higher to grasp that essentially the most elementary facet of being human is the longing to dwell in a extra excellent and exquisite world than the one which we dwell in now. Typically that’s expressed in explicitly non secular phrases, just like the eager for Mecca or for Zion, or for Eden, or like the way in which the Sufis put it, which is my favourite, “the eager for the beloved of the soul.”

Nevertheless it’s additionally in these moments once we see a beautiful waterfall or a portray that’s so stunning that it makes us cry. That’s a non secular impulse that we’re having. What we’re actually seeing is an expression of that extra excellent and exquisite world that we really feel like we come from and that we have to return to.

Inform us a little bit in regards to the significance of “longing,” the way it’s been misunderstood in fashionable occasions and throughout the context of a tradition pushed by “the tyranny of optimism?”

S.C.: In our tradition, you say the phrase “longing” and also you may assume “mired in longing” or “wallowing in longing,” however that’s not the way it has been understood traditionally. Within the “Odyssey,” Odysseus was seized by homesickness and that was what propelled him on his journey.

That’s what carries you to the divine, to creativity. I don’t imagine we must be making a distinction between the divine and creativity and compassion and all this stuff. They’re all manifestations of the identical elementary state of humanity.

In case you had revealed this guide earlier than the pandemic, do you assume there could be a unique degree of reception?

S.C.: Once I gave my TED Talk on bittersweetness in the summertime of 2019, it was fascinating how a lot the very act of speaking about sorrow, longing and bittersweetness was seen as being a press release of melancholy, versus a cleareyed view of what life is.

The truth that all people should undergo that collectively is considered one of our deepest sources of communion and considered one of our deepest sources of artwork and wonder. I feel it was very laborious for half the viewers to know that at that second in time. I feel if I have been giving that discuss in the present day, it may be totally different.

You make a giant distinction between candy melancholy and melancholy. How do you outline the distinction?

S.C.: I’m melancholic by nature, however I consider myself as a contented melancholic. I’m really not depressive within the medical sense of that time period.

It’s actually fascinating as a result of there’s an extended custom that goes again centuries of speaking about melancholy and its mysterious virtues — greater than 2,000 years in the past Aristotle was asking why it’s that most of the nice poets and philosophers and politicians have a melancholic persona. Melancholy and melancholy are two distinct states, however usually no distinction is made.

What fields of psychology are bucking this tendency towards pathologizing melancholy?

S.C.: One psychologist, Dacher Keltner, who I wrote about within the guide, has executed pioneering work on what he calls the “compassionate intuition,” and he factors out that the very phrase “compassion” means struggling collectively. So what you’re doing whenever you’re feeling compassionate is definitely experiencing this sorrow of others.

After we consider human nature, we regularly both cynically or despairingly go to the thought of survival of the fittest, however Dr. Keltner says we must also actually be speaking about survival of the kindest, as a result of as people, the one means that we survive is by having the ability to reply to the cries of our infants. What has radiated outward from there may be that we’re not solely responding to our personal infants’ cries, we react to the cries of different folks’s infants after which we react to different human beings in misery generally.

Can listening to bittersweet, minor-key music, prime you for “the bittersweet mind-set” and life’s fragility?

S.C.: Sure, completely. The truth is, that was really the catalyst that received me to begin scripting this guide. I might hearken to a technically unhappy track, however what it made me really feel as an alternative was a way of communion with different individuals who had additionally identified the sorrow that the music was expressing. And with this unbelievable sense of awe and gratitude towards the musician for having the ability to translate what had clearly originated in ache and to remodel it into magnificence. It’s type of like my church after I hearken to that music. My playlist is on Spotify, really.

What are your “bittersweet” practices?

S.C.: Meditation is one thing that I apply on and off, together with mindfulness. However I’m additionally actually focused on exploring any experiences that make me really feel extra related to a state of affection. There’s one other apply that I’ve began doing over the past yr or in order that got here out of the pandemic.

Throughout the starting of the pandemic, I fell into this behavior of doomscrolling Twitter. It was what I might do very first thing within the morning as I awakened. I made a decision that was actually unhealthy. I used to be considering of the poem by Rumi the place he talks about how we get up each morning, empty and frightened, and as an alternative of going straight to our research, we must always pull down the musical instrument and let the wonder be what you do.

So I made a decision to begin my mornings as an alternative with magnificence. I requested on Twitter for folks to advocate their favourite artwork accounts and I began following them. And now my feed is filled with artwork. Earlier than I do the rest, I take the time to pair the artwork with a favourite poem or an concept that I’m eager about or no matter. It’s a every day apply that I really like.