Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole

Crown. Apr. 2022. 352p. ISBN 9780451499783. $28. PSYCH
In her first adult book since 2012’s bestselling Quiet, Cain explores how a bittersweet perspective can help people overcome individual and collective pain, while encouraging compassion and unity. Cain defines a bittersweet outlook as “a tendency to states of longing, poignancy, and sorrow.” It’s a recognition that the light and the dark are inseparable; embracing the imperfections of the world goes hand-in-hand with a desire to make the world better. Cain utilizes an engaging blend of interviews, research, firsthand accounts, and biographical anecdotes to explore the many beneficial aspects of appreciating this mindset. Examples sprawl among many disciplines including the arts, religion, business, and family life. While melancholia was appreciated in the past, modern American society’s emphasis on relentless positivity has led to numerous negative consequences, argues Cain. She explores the harmful effects of emotional suppression, including hostile work environments and generational trauma. Grief and loss are addressed, notably the death of Cain’s father from COVID, and Cain posits that a bittersweet disposition helps prepare people to navigate and process life’s difficulties.
VERDICT Timely in its focus, this latest work by Cain delivers an eloquent and compelling case supporting the transformative possibilities of embracing sorrow. Highly recommended.
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