Susan Cain’s Bittersweet, How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole

<i>Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole</i> by Susan Cain.

Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole by Susan Cain.Credit:

Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole
Susan Cain
Penguin, $35.00

American writer Susan Cain’s first guide QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking turned a bible for a lot of introverted souls. It targeted not on the concept of shyness, however a deeper look into the methods by which introverted folks reply to exterior stimulation and environments, and the way the world is formed by approaches that favour extroverted personalities.

In Bittersweet, she begins off with an intriguing thought: why are we so taken with unhappy songs? Referencing songwriters similar to Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave, she explores the rationale that she is so drawn to music with melancholy – and alights on the “bittersweet”; these uncommon moments we expertise pleasure and disappointment on the identical time.

Cain has a quiz that readers can fill out to see how they match on the bittersweet spectrum, and argues that sure individuals are extra attuned to each the darkish and the sunshine. She units off on a journey to search out them, which takes her from Pixar director Peter Docter, thinker Alain Botton and Japanese haiku poet Issa to “the immortalists” who select to imagine they’ll defy ageing and dying. Cain is an skilled at connecting disparate concepts in a readable and satisfying fashion, however effervescent beneath all of it is her fixed questioning of the Western psyche, American obeisance specifically, and what she refers to because the “tyranny of positivity”.

Her mission is a name to arms for an elevation and acceptance of sure emotions often unstated or hidden, similar to disappointment, attachment or longing, to see what they’ll convey to the world in uncommon methods. What occurs when a boss integrates sorrow moderately than anger into her management fashion? She dissects the time period “loser” and the way it has advanced into a press release of disgrace moderately than an individual deserving compassion. She locations these concepts within the framework of cultural aspirations the place, regardless of the general public smiles and the promoted successes, individuals are turning into extra depressed and suicide charges are rising, notably amongst younger folks.


Weaving by the analysis is an perception into Cain’s circle of relatives expertise. She explores an idyllic childhood along with her mom, who modified in Cain’s teen years and couldn’t bear to be separated from her daughter. Cain’s mom referred to as her day by day when she left for Princeton, abusive, ruthlessly making an attempt to regulate her life. Cain escaped the connection by (unintentionally) handing her mom written diaries the place she had poured out her rage and disappointment – the message was clear. But in later years, with Alzheimer’s, her mom couldn’t keep in mind the arguments and ache of their relationship, and so returned to the doting and loving mom of her youthful years that Cain had yearned for. As she holds her mom’s hand and is instructed how a lot she is cherished, it’s the true style of bittersweetness.

Cain additionally examines epigenetics and the way trauma is handed down by the generations. Her grandparents’ households have been killed within the Holocaust, and he or she carries the massive burden of their grief alongside along with her personal, however she experiences this ache as transformative. And this finally is what Cain comes away with – how one can’t attain the sweetness of life with out the important bitter component.

In the tip, she transposes this to life’s vital questions: how we stay and the way we die. After analyzing widespread responses to bereavement – the urge to let go or transfer on, the hiding away of disappointment – she lastly finds most consolation as an alternative within the staying with it and the acceptance that everybody has a dying sentence from the day they’re born, and the way, moderately than being morbid or horrifying, that data can spur compassion and have fun the journey because it unfolds.

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