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Are Positivity and Happiness Overrated? What can Sadness & Melancholy teach us? Bittersweet Book

Bittersweet, written by Susan Cain can prove to be a life changing book for you. She is the lady of the best-selling book for introverts, Quiet. This book literally shifted the way I saw myself and helped me accept and appreciate my introverted nature in a World where being talkative and outspoken is seen as the norm. And now, with her latest book Bittersweet, she attempts to help us accept that it is ok to feel not okay. Sadness and melancholy or in the author's words, bittersweet feelings are part of the human condition and it should not be viewed as problematic but as a means to getting close to divinity. She claims that the West has popularised positivity and pursuing Happiness as our ultimate life goals but only if we look at all the cultures around the World, do we realise that enforced Positivity can be toxic, and it is through sadness and grief that we connect with each other better. Here are some of the learnings from this enlightening book:

  1. Purpose of Sadness

The real reason for all of our emotions is to connect us. Sadness of all the emotions is the ultimate bonding agent. Fear keeps you safe. Anger protects you from being taken advantage of. Sadness triggers compassion. It brings people together.

  1. Purpose of Longing / Yearning

Longing is a creative and spiritual state. Yearning flourishes in the realm of romantic love but doesn't derive from it. Rather yearning exists first on its own. Romantic love is just an expression of it. We like art forms that express that we are longing for union & for a more perfect & beautiful world. Longing is a sacred & generative force. Longing is ultimately for the union with the divine. Home isn't a place. Home is where that longing is . You don't feel good until you are there. In the end, it's one big yearning.

  1. The Bigger Picture of Love & Creativity 

Love has dual quality. Postive & Negative. Masculine and feminine.

Love is both masculine and feminine. 

I love you is masculine and I am waiting for you is feminine.

Longing is the feminine expression of love. It's waiting for the union with our source. Since, our culture for centuries has rejected it's feminine aspect, we have associated longing with depression or something negative. When in reality it is not.

What the author suggests is that whatever the pain you can't get rid of, make it your creative offering. 

Or Find someone who makes it for you. And If you do feel drawn to such a person, ask yourself why are you drawn to them, what are they expressing on your behalf , & where do they have the power to take you.

  1. Dealing with Loss

1. These losses and imperfections shape your psyche. They lay down patterns for all your interactions.

2. No matter how much therapeutic work you do, these might be your Achilles heels for life.

3. The love you lost, or the love you wished you had, that love exists eternally. It shifts it's shape, but it always exists. The task is to recognise its new form.

The following steps may help in accepting losses:

1. Acceptance of the bitter

2. Embrace the emotions that accompany the bitter

3. Accept all our thoughts & feelings

4. We should expect that sometimes we will feel overwhelmed

5. Do not expect to overcome unhealthy thoughts eg I should be over this, life is unfair etc.

6. Connecting with people or tasks that matters

7. Taking action

  1. How expressive writing helps

Expressive writing helps to see our misfortunes as seeds of growth. You learn to live with insight.

Complete the statement, "I am .... "   with something you don't like about yourself or something which is holding you back.

For example, in my case, "I am afraid of sharing my feelings", "I am afraid of being vulnerable" etc. Likewise write down for yourself.

Then think, whether people who love you, would still love you if they knew this about you? Would you still love you? Do you still love you? Hopefully you have answered yes to all the questions. 

If no, then understand that there is not something wrong with you. You don't have a pathology. You and I are just humans. Welcome to humanity.

  1. Dealing with Mortality

We are not longing for immortality, we are longing for perfect & unconditional love.

And the solution is to not make a perfect world, but as cited in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism it is to free ourselves from the cycle of births and rebirth.

We are yearning to reunite with the source of love.

Sorrow, longing and mortality are an undying force, a pathway to love. Our greatest most difficult task is learning how to walk it.

Our difficulty in accepting impermanence is the root of our suffering.

To summarise the author's deep reflections on the topic, I would say that Life is not just about experiencing happiness and positivity. No matter who you are, how much wealth you have, there will be moments of sorrow, pain & longing. This is what makes us human. We all are ultimately looking to return to the source of our origin, the source of eternal love and until then we will keep taking various living forms experiencing all sorts of emotions. We need to cherish the sweet experiences but at the same time embrace the bitter experiences also, for because of them, we connect not only to our source of origin but also with each other better. The author suggests transforming any of our yearning into a creative force, maybe through art, dance, music, business, writing, any creative task you can think of. Because it is in the longing of something or someone or in the sorrow of the pain of separation that we begin to appreciate the joy of togetherness, taking each step towards making a better, beautiful world.


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