Apr 13

“Bittersweet” by Susan Cain

Many readers who loved Susan Cain‘s Quiet (about being introverted) will no doubt also appreciate her new book, Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole. 

Her definition of bittersweetness: “a tendency to states of longing, poignancy, and sorrow; an acute awareness of passing time; and a curiously piercing joy at the beauty of the world. It’s also about the recognition that light and dark, birth and death—bitter and sweet—are forever paired.”

Publishers Weekly expands on the thesis of the book: “Cain handily traverses fields as diverse as neuroscience, popular music, religion, and business management to find instances of the transformation of pain and longing into fulfillment: the music of Leonard Cohen, for example, is ‘a transcendence delivery system,’ and in Michigan, a hospital billing department’s culture of caring for distressed or bereaved employees resulted in collecting bills faster. Though Cain’s panoramic scope covers some familiar ground (U.S. culture’s ‘tyranny of positivity’ has been critiqued before), this ambitious work impresses in its dexterous integration of disparate thought traditions into a cohesive, moving, and insightful whole.”

To what ends does appreciating bittersweet feelings bring us? Chris Schluep, Amazon Editor: “It turns out that sadness is the heart of compassion, and compassion is the heart of being human. Cain describes how sorrow and longing are adaptive traits with benefits that far outweigh the suffering they put us through. And they aren’t just human qualities. In fact, sorrow is on par with functions like digestion and breathing—it’s part of the mechanics of living.”

Kirkus Reviews offers additional info: “Cain argues persuasively that these emotions can be channeled into artistic pursuits such as music, writing, dancing, or cooking, and by tapping into them, we can transform ‘the way we parent, the way we lead, the way we love, and the way we die.’ If we don’t transform our sorrows and longings of the past, she writes, we may inflict them on present relationships through abuse, domination, or neglect.”

To what degree do you show a bittersweet orientation? Cain, along with research scientist Dr. David Yaden and cognitive scientist Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman, created a quiz you can take. It’s posted by the author as a Bittersweet excerpt at Mindbodygreen.com.

Mar 30

Introversion: A Summary of Helpful Resources

Although Susan Cain‘s Quiet (2012) may be the best known of the introversion resources/books, the following are some additional suggestions.

I. Books on Introversion

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) can only be administered by certified practitioners, but a book by David KeirseyPlease Understand Me II: Temperament, Character, Intelligence (1998), offers a quick test, the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, that gives results similar to the MBTI. Keirsey gives detailed descriptions of each of the 16 types. Introversion is one of the key traits analyzed.

Additional books:

II. Article on Introversion

Possibly my favorite resource is an article by Jonathan Rauch entitled “Caring For Your Introvert: The Habits and Needs of a Little-Understood Group” (The Atlantic), March 2003.

Although tongue-in-cheek, the many good points in this piece have resonated with tons of people since its publication. Some excerpts:

  • Introverts are not necessarily shy…Introverts are also not misanthropic, though some of us do go along with Sartre as far as to say ‘Hell is other people at breakfast.’ Rather, introverts are people who find other people tiring.
  • For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating. Our motto: ‘I’m okay, you’re okay–in small doses.’
  • Extroverts have little or no grasp of introversion. They assume that company, especially their own, is always welcome.
  • The only thing a true introvert dislikes more than talking about himself is repeating himself.
  • We tend to think before talking, whereas extroverts tend to think by talking…
  • The worst of it is that extroverts have no idea of the torment they put us through. Sometimes, as we gasp for air amid the fog of their 98-percent-content-free talk, we wonder if extroverts even bother to listen to themselves.

Rauch’s concluding remarks offer a (naturally) cheeky response to the following question: How can I let the introvert in my life know that I support him and respect his choice?

First, recognize that it’s not a choice. It’s not a lifestyle. It’s an orientation.

Second, when you see an introvert lost in thought, don’t say, ‘What’s the matter?’ or ‘Are you all right?’

Third, don’t say anything else, either.

III. A Test to Measure Introversion and a Chart

Scott Barry Kaufman in Scientific American introduces a test that purports to measure four different aspects of introversion based on previous academic findings of Jennifer Odessa Grimes. Go to the above-linked article and scroll down to “What Kind of Introvert Are You?” to take the test.

When you score your results you’ll have a number for each type. It’s not about the highest score being your type—rather, each score indicates how much of that type is part of your introversion.

For a quick read, go to this popular Huffington Post article by Lindsay Holmes, who provides an illustrated chart, “Dr. Carmella’s Guide to Understanding the Introverted,” by artist Roman Jones.