Bittersweet (Oprah’s Book Club): How Sorrow And Longing Make Us Whole by Susan Cain

Bittersweet (Oprah's Book Club): How Sorrow And Longing Make Us Whole by Susan Cain


The author of the bestselling phenomenon Quiet explores the power of the bittersweet personality, revealing a misunderstood side of mental health and creativity while offering a roadmap to facing heartbreak in order to live life to the fullest.

“Bittersweet has the power to transform the way you see your life and the world.”–OPRAH

“Grabs you by the heart and doesn’t let go.”–BRENÉ BROWN, author of Atlas of the Heart

“Susan Cain has described and validated my existence once again!”–GLENNON DOYLE, author of Untamed

“The perfect cure for toxic positivity.”–ADAM GRANT, author of Think Again


ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The Wall Street Journal, Mashable

Bittersweetness is 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 recognizes that light and dark, birth and death–bitter and sweet–are forever paired. If you’ve ever wondered why you like sad music . . .

If you find comfort or inspiration in a rainy day . . .

If you react intensely to music, art, nature, and beauty . . .

Then you probably identify with the bitter­sweet state of mind.

With Quiet, Susan Cain urged our society to cultivate space for the undervalued, indispensable introverts among us, thereby revealing an un­tapped power hidden in plain sight. Now she em­ploys the same mix of research, storytelling, and memoir to explore why we experience sorrow and longing, and how embracing the bittersweetness at the heart of life is the true path to creativity, con­nection, and transcendence.

Cain shows how a bittersweet state of mind is the quiet force that helps us transcend our personal and collective pain, whether from a death or breakup, addiction or illness. If we don’t acknowledge our own heartache, she says, we can end up inflicting it on others via abuse, domination, or neglect. But if we realize that all humans know–or will know–loss and suffering, we can turn toward one another. At a time of profound discord and personal anxiety, Bittersweet brings us together in deep and unexpected ways.

Embracing Bittersweetness: Finding Beauty in Sorrow and Longing

Many of us are not fully present in our lives because we are constantly guarding ourselves against potential threats. However, if we can see the joys and challenges as part of the same journey, we don’t have to feel guilty or defensive about embracing the joys. Author Susan Cain, known for her book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” explores this concept in her new book called “Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole.” In a conversation with host Brian Elliott on “Behind the Brand,” she discusses her personal journey as a writer and the importance of embracing both the light and dark aspects of the human experience.

The Journey Towards Writing

Susan always had a passion for writing and wanted to pursue it since she was four years old. However, influenced by practicality, she became a corporate lawyer for almost 10 years. It wasn’t until she left her law firm and took a class in creative non-fiction that she realized writing was her true calling. This radical shift in her life allowed her to fully embrace her passion and she has been writing ever since.

The Path to Embracing Longing

Susan explains that throughout her life, she has been drawn to bittersweet music and wondered why she finds joy in something that is often associated with sadness. Through years of research and exploration, she discovered that the longing expressed in bittersweet music and other art forms is a fundamental aspect of the human experience. She believes that by embracing these states of longing and sorrow, we can tap into our creativity and deepen our connections with others.

The Power of Longing

Susan delves into the concept of longing, describing it as an “inconsolable longing for we know not what.” She explains that this longing for a more perfect and beautiful world is expressed in various ways by different cultures and individuals. By accepting and understanding our longings, we can develop a greater appreciation for the beauty and joy in life.

Navigating Life’s Challenges

Susan emphasizes that challenges and sufferings are part of the main road in life, not detours. By accepting the inevitability of both joy and sorrow, we can open ourselves up to fully experiencing and embracing the joys and beauties of life. This mindset can also help us overcome feelings of guilt or defensiveness that might hinder our ability to fully engage in the joys life has to offer.

Personal Reflections and Transformations

Susan reflects on her own family background, marked by love, loss, and the legacy of the Holocaust. These experiences have shaped her perspective on the coexistence of light and dark in life. She also shares her personal experiences of sorrow and loss, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through her writing and research, she found solace in the understanding that pain can be transformed into something beautiful and meaningful.

The Importance of Expressive Writing

Susan highlights the transformative power of expressive writing, where individuals write down their troubles and experiences without judgment or the expectation of anyone else reading it. This practice has been found to have numerous benefits, including improved health outcomes and increased success in various aspects of life. Susan suggests incorporating expressive writing into our daily routines or even in team practices to foster empathy and connection.

Seeing Unwritten Captions

Susan introduces the concept of imagining unwritten captions for the people we encounter in our daily lives. By considering the potential sorrows and joys others might be experiencing, we can cultivate empathy, compassion, and a deeper connection with our fellow human beings. This simple practice encourages us to be more understanding and less quick to judge.

The Healing Power of Transforming Pain

Susan encourages embracing the pain and transforming it into something positive and creative. She acknowledges that this perspective does not minimize the depth of the pain but rather suggests finding purpose and meaning in the midst of it. By channeling our pain into creative endeavors or using it to help others, we can find healing, growth, and a sense of generativity.

Embracing Life’s Fleeting Moments

Susan concludes by emphasizing the importance of fully experiencing both the sorrows and joys of life. By recognizing the impermanence of all emotions and experiences, we can let go of guilt and defensiveness and open ourselves up to fully embracing the beauty and joy that life has to offer.

In summary, Susan Cain’s book “Bittersweet” invites readers to explore the coexistence of joy and sorrow in life. By embracing our longings and transforming pain into purpose, we can cultivate creativity, connection, and a deeper appreciation for the fleeting moments that make life meaningful.

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