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Susan Cain on What is the Happiness of Being Bittersweet
How sorrow and longing make us whole

Susan Cain (@suscancain) is the author of Quiet Journal, Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introvertsand Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, which spent eight years on The New York Times bestseller list, and has been translated into 40 languages. Her new masterpiece, Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole, is available now.

Susan’s first record-smashing TED Talk has been viewed more than 40 million times and was named by Bill Gates as one of his all-time favorite talks (and if you like that one, you should check out her most recent TED Talk with violinist Min Kym). LinkedIn named her the top sixth influencer in the world, just behind Richard Branson and Melinda Gates. Susan partners with Malcolm Gladwell, Adam Grant, and Dan Pink to curate the Next Big Idea Club. They donate all of their proceeds to children’s literacy programs.

In Bittersweet, Susan Cain discusses why sadness and the happiness of the melancholy are key to achieving self-transcendence and the union between souls. As with the majority of people, you’ve probably been taught your entire life to look at the positive side and be happy no matter what. While there is a place for optimism and looking at the bright side, by burying your melancholy and sadness, you may actually be doing yourself a terrible disservice.

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Our impulse to respond to other beings’ sadness sits in the same location as our need to breathe, digest food, reproduce, and protect our babies; in the same place as our desire to be rewarded and to enjoy life’s pleasures.

Susan Cain in her book Bittersweet

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Please Enjoy!

What I Discuss With Susan Cain on the Happiness of Being Bittersweet

  • Susan Cain and I discuss what it is to be bittersweet and how the idea originated.
  • Tapping into Bittersweet songs, and seeking the happiness of the melancholy.
  • The power of bittersweet, and why our culture is blind to its value.
  • Susan’s unique writing process and why it takes years for her to write a book.
  • We go deeply into why Bittersweet touches on art, religion, and myth.
  • We discuss the trend in many Universities of the need for students to feel they are effortlessly perfect.
  • We discuss why creativity is a product of sorrow and longing.
  • The story and influence of Susan Cain’s dear friend violinist Min Kym.
  • We discuss the Top Five Regrets of the Dying by Bonnie Ware
  • The influence of professors David Yaden, Scott Barry Kauffman, and Dacher Keltner on the book.
  • How we can transcend our culture of enforced positivity in the workplace and beyond.
  • Why she made the statement in Bittersweet that she was her mother’s killer and how that ended her childhood.
  • Have any questions, comments, or stories you’d like to share with us? Drop us a line at [email protected]m!
  • And much more…
121 | What is the Happiness of Bittersweet? | Susan Cain | Passion Struck with John R. Miles
121 | What is the Happiness of Bittersweet? | Susan Cain | Passion Struck with John R. Miles

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More About This Show on the Happiness of Bittersweet with Author Susan Cain

I asked Susan Cain why we needed to concentrate more on the whole idea of bittersweetness.

Susan explains, “The message that we are sending our kids and our adult selves, the messages that when things are going well, that’s the main story. And when you experience sorrow, or longing, that’s a detour from the main road. If we could instead understand that it’s all the main road, then what that would do is normalize our experiences. When difficult things would come to us, we would be able to experience them very differently, and also look at other people’s difficulties in a more open way, because we wouldn’t find them so scary, or so distasteful.”

Why is it Important to Raise Children to Value Sorrow, Longing, Compassion, and Disappointment?

On Passion Struck with John R. Miles, I asked Susan Cain her perspective on raising children to value, sorrow, longing, compassion and disappointment.

Susain remarks, “My perspective is that we need to normalize it for them. We need to teach children from an early age, not in a heavy way, but just in a matter of fact, way that this is part of life. I feel like one of the things that we need to do as parents is, while they’re still under our loving rooves, that’s actually the best time to be exposing them gently to the things that the world has in store, so that they can understand when those things happen. That this is part of it, that this is part of the deal. But joy is also part of the deal, and to help them work through it and understand it.

I think one of the best things that we can do for our kids is to explain the totality of life to them while they still are with us and, and still have parental love to help them navigate that.”

Thanks, Susan Cain!

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Susan Cain quote from Passion Struck podcast on the states of happiness and sorrow


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*Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole by Susan Cain

Check out John’s episode on the science that promotes Curiosity. Catch up with Episode 114.

Are you showing yourself self-compassion? John discusses Self-Love in episode 104.

Is the Hustle Culture is Making You Miserable? John explores this in-depth in Episode 70.

Suppose you missed our interview with Rear Admiral Tim Gallaudet on the keys to learning in turbulent times. Download it here.

Catch the episode I did with Jeff Walker on the criticality of systems change. You can find the episode here.

About Today’s Guest Susan Cain

Susan Cain picture for passion struck with John R. Miles

With her viral talk from TED2012 and her bestseller “Quiet,” Susan Cain urged our society to cultivate space for the undervalued, indispensable introverts among us. Now, she’s back to explore the surprising lessons sorrow and longing teach us about creativity, connection, and love. She is now doing it again with her new book “Bittersweet.”


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John R. Miles is a serial entrepreneur and the CEO and founder of Passion Struck. This full-service media company helps people live intentionally by creating best-in-class educational and entertainment content. John is also a prolific public speaker, venture capitalist, and author named to the ComputerWorld Top 100 IT Leaders.

John is the host of the PassionStruckPodcast. A show focused on exploring the mindset and philosophy of the world’s highest achievers to learn their lessons to living intentionally. Passion Struck aspires to speak to the humanity of people in a way that makes them want to live better, be better and impact.

Stay tuned for John’s latest project, his upcoming book, which will be published in summer 2022.

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