That feeling you get when listening to sad music? It’s humanity.



Staff member

That feeling you get when listening to sad music? It’s humanity. - Harvard Gazette

Susan Cain’s new book explores how bittersweet view of life can lead to creativity, connection​

Susan Cain prefers to poke around the less-examined corners of can-do America. In 2012 she published “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” which became a phenomenon and made the congenitally less chatty among us fashionable and even cool. The 1993 Harvard Law School graduate’s new book, “Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Can Make Us Whole,” has become a New York Times bestseller. The Gazette spoke with Cain about how embracing the poignancy of life can lead to creativity and connection. The interview was edited for clarity and length.

GAZETTE: What does it mean to have a “bittersweet” state of mind?

CAIN: It has to do with the awareness that life is a mix of joy and sorrow, light and dark, and that everything and everyone you love is impermanent. I first experienced this state of mind when I would listen to sad music. All my life I had this mysterious reaction to sad music; it would make me feel a sense of connection to the people who had known the sorrow that the musician was trying to express. At first, I thought it was just me, but when I started my research, I realized that many musicologists have been studying this because for a long time many people have had this reaction not only to music, but to other aspects of the human experience. There is a deep tradition across the world and across the centuries of people experiencing this higher state of mind that comes from an awareness of fragility and impermanence.