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Susan Cain on Finding Purpose in Sorrow

At this time of profound discord and personal anxiety, embracing both the light and the dark can bring us together in deep and unexpected ways.

It’s time that we began. To laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again. – Leonard Cohen, ’So Long, Marianne’ 

People whose favourite songs are happy listen to them an average of 175 times. But those who prefer sad songs listen to them almost 800 times and report a deeper connection to the music than those who prefer happy songs. This is just one of the many insights that author Susan Cain shared when she came to Intelligence Squared to talk about her new book Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole. 

Cain shot to fame in 2012 with her international bestseller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, in which she urged society to cultivate space for the undervalued introverts among us. Now she argued that by embracing the bittersweet at the heart of life – the sense that joy and sorrow are always paired – we can gain a heightened appreciation of the wonder and beauty of the world and improve our creativity and connection. Pointing out the bittersweetness expressed in religion, art and music – from the longing for the Garden of Eden, Zion or Mecca, through the epic themes of Gilgamesh, The Odyssey and Star Wars, to the songs of Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen – Cain showed how a bittersweet state of mind can help us transcend our personal and collective pain.

Cain explained how at this time of profound discord and personal anxiety, embracing both the light and the dark can bring us together in deep and unexpected ways.




Susan Cain

Author whose latest book is Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole.

Author of the Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in A World That Can't Stop Talking, which has sold over 2 million copies and been translated into more than 30 languages. Since her 2012 TED talk was posted online it has been viewed over 40 million times. Her writing on introversion and shyness has appeared in the New York Times, the Guardian, Oprah magazine and Psychology Today. Cain has spoken at the Royal Society of Arts, Microsoft and Google, and has appeared on the BBC, CBS and NPR. Her work has been featured on the cover of Time, in the Daily Mail, the FT, the Atlantic, GQ, Grazia, the New Yorker, Wired, Fast Company, Fortune, Forbes, USA Today, the Washington Post, CNN and Slate.com. Her new book is Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole.

Shahidha Bari

Writer, academic and broadcaster

Professor of Fashion Cultures and Histories at London College of Fashion at the University of the Arts London, and a Fellow of the Forum for Philosophy at the London School of Economics. She is a regular presenter of the BBC Radio 3's Arts and Ideas programme, Free Thinking, and an occasional presenter of BBC Radio 4's Front Row and Saturday Review. She contributes to Aeon, The Financial Times, Frieze art magazine, The Guardian, The Observer, The Times Literary Supplement and other publications. She is the author of Dressed: The Secret Life of Clothes.