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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Part 2, Chapters 5-6Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Part 2: “Winners and Losers”

Part 2, Chapter 5 Summary: “How Did a Nation Founded on So Much Heartache Turn into a Culture of Normative Smiles?”

Cain dives into the question that drives the chapter, establishing in the first paragraph that the focus will be on the culture of positivity prevalent in the United States. She then introduces Susan David, a Harvard Medical School psychologist who also is a workplace management expert, and who experienced the loss of her father when she was 15 years old. David had initially responded to the death by keeping a straight face and by going about her daily life in as much the same way as possible, all the while feeling devastated at the loss. David never really came to terms with her grief until she was encouraged by an English teacher to express her thoughts in writing. This taught her the importance of paying attention to her own grief. Cain uses David’s story to segue into a discussion of the “tyranny of positivity,” a term David coined and uses to describe the tendency in American culture to insist on putting on a happy face regardless of how one feels inside.

Cain points out that in American culture, there is much celebration of birth while there is not as much acknowledgment of death as there is in other cultures. She provides examples including the Day of the Dead in Mexico.