• Catherine Hansen

A bittersweet life

"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’s also about the recognition that light and dark, birth and death—bitter and sweet—are forever paired." -Susan Cain

EWC Project Coordinator recently shared with me that when she hears a certain song, it brings her to tears because it makes her feel connected to her dad. She describes it as feeling deeply sad, but happy at the same time. How is it possible to experience two opposing emotions—how can they exist simultaneously? This reminded me of a recent article I saved in my inbox from Maria Shriver on the power of bittersweet emotions. In it she interviews Susan Cain, author of the best selling book Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Makes us Whole, and they discuss "those feelings in life that teeter on the edges of joy, pain, nostalgia, and sorrow." The article was moving and got me thinking about times in my life when I have experienced these emotions at the same time.



Most recently, our family hosted a 60th wedding anniversary for my parents which also fell on my Dad's 80th birthday and Father's Day. It was a big day for so many reasons. The entire day was busy but, as I glanced around the backyard, I felt a sense of awe at the people who came to celebrate my parents and all the memories and life experiences we have had together. I also found myself overwhelmed with the passage of time and the aging of myself, my brothers, my parents and all the friends and relatives I don't see regularly. We are all getting older. For me, it was one of those moments when time stood still and I was even more aware of the preciousness of my life. I realize many people will push past those moments and I speculate that it may be because the emotions are uncomfortable. Many people don't want to feel this discomfort or don't know how to contain it. But I feel sorry for those people because I believe that they miss the specialness of the gift of life when they rush past the nostalgia. Why is it important to acknowledge the power of bittersweetness and the moments that invoke it? According to Cain—

  • It helps you see with greater clarity that by leaning into the "quiet force" of bittersweet we ultimately live with greater creativity, gratitude, and love.

  • data "shows that leaning into that side of ourselves brings us closer to meaning and gratitude"

  • It orients us toward our deeper relationships

  • There’s less anger and frustration, and more satisfaction

  • Bittersweetness is a great catalyst for creativity.

On the other side of fear is an opportunity grow your appreciation for life and experience more joy. While it may be uncomfortable to lean into bittersweetness, Cain suggests starting "your day with an act of beauty, by finding something that you experience as very beautiful." Our EWC members recently participated in an immersive experience led by co-facilitator Barbara Frensel focused on the power of beauty and I think Susan Cain perfectly sums up why it matters—because... "works of art and beauty contain within them all of the joy and sorrow of human experience." Cheers to a beautiful and bittersweet life!