That feeling you get when listening to unhappy music? It’s humanity – Harvard Gazette


Susan Cain prefers to poke across the less-examined corners of can-do America. In 2012 she printed “Quiet: The Energy of Introverts in a World That Can’t Cease Speaking,” which grew to become a phenomenon and made the congenitally much less chatty amongst us trendy and even cool. The 1993 Harvard Legislation Faculty graduate’s new guide, “Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Can Make Us Complete,” has grow to be a New York Occasions bestseller. The Gazette spoke with Cain about how embracing the poignancy of life can result in creativity and connection. The interview was edited for readability and size.

GAZETTE: What does it imply to have a “bittersweet” way of thinking?

CAIN: It has to do with the notice that life is a mixture of pleasure and sorrow, mild and darkish, and that every thing and everybody you’re keen on is impermanent. I first skilled this way of thinking once I would hearken to unhappy music. All my life I had this mysterious response to unhappy music; it could make me really feel a way of connection to the individuals who had identified the sorrow that the musician was making an attempt to specific. At first, I believed it was simply me, however once I began my analysis, I noticed that many musicologists have been learning this as a result of for a very long time many individuals have had this response not solely to music, however to different facets of the human expertise. There’s a deep custom the world over and throughout the centuries of individuals experiencing this greater way of thinking that comes from an consciousness of fragility and impermanence.

GAZETTE: You make a connection between this way of thinking and faith. Are you able to discuss {that a} bit?

CAIN: We hearken to unhappy music for a similar cause we go to church or synagogue or the mosque. We lengthy for the Backyard of Eden, we lengthy for Mecca, we lengthy for Zion as a result of we come into this world with the sense that there’s a extra good and exquisite world to which we belong, the place we’re not. We really feel that intensely, however we’re not likely inspired to articulate that. But our religions do it for us. Artwork additionally does it. In “The Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy longs for a spot “someplace over the rainbow,” and Harry Potter longs to see his dad and mom once more. It is a basic constructing block of each human expertise. That’s what the music is expressing, and that’s why we hearken to it, and that’s why we really feel so related to one another after we do it as a result of that is our most main state of being. However as a result of all of us should earn a dwelling, increase our kids, and stay our lives, we’re not a lot in contact with these deeper states. Arts and music have a manner of bringing us again.

GAZETTE: Many individuals would discover that having a optimistic outlook in life is ok. What’s incorrect with that?

CAIN: There are two issues incorrect with it. Primary is that it’s simply not telling the reality of any human expertise as a result of there’s no human being who doesn’t expertise each pleasure and sorrow, and light-weight and darkish. That’s simply a part of human life. To inform one another that we shouldn’t be telling the reality of our experiences is inherently invalidating. However the deeper cause is that there’s something in regards to the melancholic facet of our expertise that’s intimately related to creativity and to transcendence. We shouldn’t need to be robbing ourselves of this expertise.

Within the guide, I developed a bittersweet quiz, with psychologists Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman and Dr. David Yaden, that individuals can take to measure how seemingly they’re to expertise bittersweet states of being. Dr. Kaufman and Dr. Yaden ran some preliminary research and located that individuals who rating excessive on the quiz, that means that they have an inclination to expertise bittersweet states of thoughts, are additionally extra inclined to states that predispose them to creativity, awe, surprise, spirituality, and transcendence. These are among the most chic facets of being human, they usually occur to be related to our appreciation of how fragile life may be, and the impermanence of life.
Bittersweet book cover.

GAZETTE: Why does disappointment get a nasty rap in American tradition?

CAIN: The U.S. tradition for the reason that nineteenth century has been organized across the thought of winners and losers. This mind-set originated within the financial sphere, the place we began asking, “If anyone succeeded or failed in enterprise, was {that a} query of fine luck or unhealthy luck?” Or “Was it one thing inside the individual that made them have that end result?” More and more, the reply that individuals arrived at was that it was pushed by one thing inside the individual, and we began having this dichotomy of seeing one another as winners and losers. The extra you’ve that form of dichotomy, the extra you need to behave in a manner that signifies that you simply’re a winner and never a loser. Something that will be related to loss, like sorrow, longing, disappointment, or melancholia, could be seen as being a part of the loser facet of the ledger.

Being a winner was related to being profitable and cheerful. Even again within the nineteenth century, the psychologist William James commented on the way it was turning into retro for individuals to complain in regards to the climate as a result of it was seen as being too detrimental. Through the Nice Despair, a typical view was to see those that misplaced every thing as losers. In my analysis, I discovered a information article with the headline: “Loser Dedicated Suicide within the Streets.” That’s astonishing if you consider it, however the usage of the phrase loser has solely elevated over time.

I’d additionally say that faith has performed a job. The U.S. was initially a Calvinist nation, and within the Calvinist faith, you have been predestined for heaven or hell. There was nothing you may do about it, however you may present that you simply have been one of many individuals who was going to heaven. The way in which to do it was by working onerous, after which that considering acquired transferred later within the nineteenth century into: “Are you a winner or a loser?”

GAZETTE: Why ought to individuals embrace the bittersweet facets of life? What’s in for them?

CAIN: The very first thing I’d say is to have a look at the information, which is kind of overwhelming. Psychologist Laura Carstensen at Stanford College did some fascinating research the place she confirmed that people who find themselves attuned to what she calls life’s fragility — the truth that our days are numbered — additionally are inclined to discover a sense of that means of their lives and have a higher sense of gratitude; they’re extra centered on their deeper relationships, they usually’re much less prone to really feel indignant and irritable.

There’s additionally the work by David Yaden, who discovered that people who find themselves in transitional states of life, together with divorce and approaching the top of their lives, additionally have a tendency to succeed in these states of thoughts that Laura Carstensen was speaking about. We noticed it collectively in the US after 9/11, when many individuals turned within the route of that means. We noticed an enormous enhance in functions for Educate For America and to take jobs as firefighters, nurses, or academics. We’re seeing that now within the wake of the pandemic, with extra functions to medical and nursing colleges and other people wanting extra that means from their work and private lives.

GAZETTE: You wrote in regards to the energy of introverts in “Quiet.” This guide is in regards to the power of embracing a bittersweet outlook on life. Why are you drawn to those underrated facets of humanity?

CAIN: I feel that each these facets of humanity are related. I additionally assume there’s one thing about writing books that provides us the permission to debate issues that aren’t as straightforward to speak about in on a regular basis life. To me, the entire level of writing books is to have a look at the unexamined, the unspeakable, and the unarticulated. I’m simply most eager about speaking about that which may’t be stated after we’re simply chatting on the grocery retailer.

GAZETTE: What do you hope individuals will take away from this guide?

CAIN: I would really like individuals to be much less afraid of experiencing melancholy, sorrow, and longing, and to embrace the powers that bittersweetness has to supply: the powers of creativity, connection, and transcendence. It has been very fascinating for me to see the response from readers of “Bittersweet,” which is a really totally different guide from “Quiet.” However the letters I’m getting from readers of “Bittersweet” are similar to those that I acquired from those that learn “Quiet” in that what individuals say time and again is, “I really feel understood,” “I had by no means been in a position to give voice to it,” “I really feel validated.” Lots of people write me saying that after studying the guide they’re realizing that they’ve suppressed the melancholic facet of their nature all their lives, they usually’re additionally realizing how beneficial that facet of their nature is. There was this curious echo with “Quiet,” which I didn’t got down to do, but it surely ended up taking place.


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