56 pages 1 hour read

Susan Cain

Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2022

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Index of Terms

Self-Transcendent Experiences (STE)

Cain’s definition is borrowed from David Yaden, a psychologist who studies these experiences. Yaden defines these as “transient mental states involving feelings of connection and self-loss” (103). These states range in intensity and can include anything from simple gratitude to full-blown mystical experiences. Yaden believes these STEs form conditions from which creativity often emerges.

Effortless Perfection

Cain experienced this phenomenon while a student at Princeton, and she discovers the actual term for it when she visits Princeton to interview a group of students for the book. She defines this as “the pressure to appear like a winner, without needing to try” (155). Effortless perfection is a mask that gives others the impression that one is cool, calm, and collected and signals success or “winning” at life. It does not allow for emotions often associated with weakness, such as sadness or melancholy. Instead, these emotions are often internally brushed aside so that others do not suspect one of being weak.


This happens “when emotions are pushed aside or ignored, they get stronger” (161). Cain introduces this term just after discussing effortless perfection, and the evidence she presents suggests that this practice, whether intentional or not, is a bad idea that can cause long-term stress and harm.