Discover Your Capacity to Create, Connect & Love

Susan Cain

Learn to embrace and experience sorrow and longing as a part of who you are and what it means to be human.
Photo by Aaron Fedor

In this Episode of The Human Upgrade™...

…you’ll learn some surprising lessons sorrow and longing can teach you about creativity, connection and love. You’ll find out why longing isn’t passive—as most people think—but actually “momentum in disguise.”

Author Susan Cain combines research, the stories of others, and memoir to explain how sadness can be your superpower. “Bittersweetness is the hidden source of our moon shots, masterpieces, and love stories,” she says in her newest book, “Bittersweet: “How Sorrow And Longing Make Us Whole”.

Longing can improve your creativity and fuel a drive to express yourself. Longing coupled with pain can help you to connect to others and provide a common ground that enhances compassion and helps you feel less alone in your troubles.

The book “started off as a question just about music,” Susan says. “But it quickly led me to realizing that there is this tradition, a literary tradition, an artistic tradition, religions or wisdom traditions have all been talking about this bittersweet mode of being, and this spans centuries that they’ve been talking about it. It’s in every culture. All of these traditions are pointing towards this bittersweet state of being. It’s being connected to creativity and a really deep communion.”

She also discovered a caveat: “You wouldn’t know any of that if you look in our culture. There’s nothing in our culture that is sending us that message. It’s telling us to be afraid of these kinds of emotions, and I think it’s a huge spiritual impoverishment.”

“It's our emotional DNA, this sense of longing for an ultimate communion and ultimate love. Existential or spiritual longing is at the heart of some of the best things that we do because we're longing for a better state.”

Susan Cain

Instead of hiding or shying away from feelings like sadness and longing, Susan encourages you to embrace them as part of who you are, and part of what it means to be human. This conversation gets into:

  • How bittersweet differs from melancholy
  • How Acceptance Commitment Therapy helps you manage the “bitter of life”
  • How sadness is the ultimate bonding agent
  • How the concept of “winners” and “losers” changed over time
  • How to live and work authentically in an environment of enforced positivity
  • How to embrace deep reflection and ask yourself: What. Are. You. Longing. For?
  • And much more…

What You Can Do Next!

  • You can take a brief Bittersweet Quiz either within Susan’s book or on her website here. This determines how familiar you are with what she calls, “the place where dark and light meet.”
  • Watch Susan’s TED Talk about “bittersweet”: “The hidden power of sad songs and rainy days

More about Susan Cain: She’s the author of “QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” which spent seven years on The New York Times bestseller list and has been translated into 40 languages. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. Her record-smashing TED Talk, “The Power of Introverts,” has been viewed over 30 million times. She’s spoken at Microsoft, Google, the U.S. Treasury, the S.E.C., Harvard, Yale, West Point and the US Naval Academy. She’s an honors graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School.

SPECIAL OFFER FOR THE HUMAN UPGRADE LISTENERS: You can go deeper into the topics of Bittersweet and Quiet with Susan’s 30-day interactive online courses.Choose to harness the power of a bittersweet mindset or learn to lead as an introvert in the workplace. Go to and use code ASPREY15 to save 15%.  

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  • As an introvert, you can have the skills of public speaking or the skills of doing interviews or whatever it is, it takes more energy. You need more recharge time when you’re done. – 4:23
  • Talk to me about what sorrow even is. I’m not sure that I really know. It’s a feeling, but how would you define sorrow?  – 8:29
  • There is this tradition, a literary tradition, an artistic tradition, religions or wisdom traditions have all been talking about this bittersweet mode of being, and this spans centuries that they’ve been talking about it. It’s in every culture. – 10:49
  • The world that we have and the humanity that we have, which is destined to experience sorrow and sadness over various circumstances.  – 21:13
  • Feel the thing that you’re lamenting but then to try to turn it into the direction of beauty or solving the problem or whatever it is.  – 24:48
  • Let’s say you’re feeling the pain of a breakup. That’s telling you that you value connections of love. So go in that direction.  – 29:11
  • There’s always at the heart of a creative drive or the desire for a moonshot, there is always an awareness of the gap between the amazing thing that could be versus that which currently is.  – 31:22
  • In Bittersweet, you talk about the acceptance commitment therapy topic. Can you walk listeners through what is ACT?  – 37:17
  • The more it became really important for people to start only permitting themselves the emotions that they would associate with winning and not with loss. It became this false duality.  – 41:42
  • Do you think that there’s generational sorrow or generational longing and that that plays a role into how we behave? – 51:15

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