Mar 12 • 50M

Why do we like to listen to sad music?

Cosmic sadness, transforming pain into creativity, and more with Susan Cain

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Carissa Potter
Each week, we invite thought leaders and experts in the fields of art, design and self-help, to talk about their areas of expertise, share a secret and share what is exciting for them.
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“Longing itself is a creative and spiritual state.” —Susan Cain

Recently, I have been spending a lot of time trying to define (and find meaning in) this moment, with my current understanding of reality. Why is life so hard? If hard things don’t always make us better/stronger, what is the point?

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There are so many ways to reframe pain in the positive. But I keep finding holes. Ways in which the theories don’t add up. Perhaps it is my depression or upbringing. Perhaps it is years of critical studies. Who knows. I was reading an interview with Fr. Mike Schmitz from the podcast, The Bible in a Year. He said he confidently teaches the Bible because it makes sense to him and he believes it is the truth. He hopes the truth will help other people understand and make meaning in life. I long for his certainty. I am still looking, desperately for what feels true. And just when I think I have found the answer, something seismic shifts, and I change my mind. The competing truths wrestle on.

If pain and suffering don’t always make us stronger, how can we reframe the hard stuff in life to keep going? To heal? Or move through?

The heart of Susan Cain’s new book Bittersweet is “transforming pain into creativity, transcendence, and love.” This makes sense to me. It is the silver lining that I have been looking for. Pain and longing help us empathize with others, know what we want, and make peace with our brokenness.

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We talk about letting go of the concept of flawless love and Alan de Botton’s article, Why You Will Marry The Wrong Person. I reference this a million times. But if you have not read it yet, go for it. Susan David comes up a lot. I talked about her before on the importance of emotional granularity. Cain references David’s work several times in Bittersweet. From a quote from Susan David’s TedTalk—“research on emotional suppression shows that when emotions are pushed aside or ignored, they get stronger”—to the idea of accepting sadness and sorrow as a part of life, without judgment.

We also talk about “emotional labor”—how putting on a happy face for others is a whole heck of a ton of mental energy. This expanded the way I view emotional labor. I am constantly torn between states of being—true to myself or true to my perception of what other people need. Plagued by the question: Is it bad to share my pain in a world that is already so full of suffering? The answer, I think, is sometimes it is ok to share your pain. I am not going to say all the time because I don’t know if that is true.

But sharing might sometimes be ok. It is connective. Listening to someone I love’s story, bad and ugly, can be frustrating when I can’t solve all their problems, but at the same time, the act of listening makes me feel closer to them. I am sad that they are going through hard times, I wish they were not, but something inside of me feels less alone in my sorrow. The act of sharing that we are having a hard time is somehow transformed into part of the process of healing, for both people. A repair that in the end, could actually make us stronger, because we are in this together.

Wishing you light and love on this first day of daylight savings, xo Carissa.