The Power of Bittersweet: How to Respond to Life's Imperfections

Do you find comfort on a rainy day? Do you love sad music? Do you feel inspired when dealing with grief or disappointment? If so, you belong to the group of people who understand that you can be happy in an imperfect world.
The Power of Bittersweet: How to Respond to Life's Imperfections
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

During childhood, you start to internalize certain dimensions as binary. People are either good or bad. The world is beautiful or ugly. Life is happy or sad. However, perceiving everything that surrounds you from such a reductionist prism denies you the possibility of perceiving the subtle yet fascinating kaleidoscope of intermediate states that makes up our existence.

In reality, there can be a certain beauty in pain and happiness in imperfection. This tends to somewhat complicate life. That’s because, as humans, we feel better with simple ideas than with those that have curves or nuances. It’s one reason why many of us miss the idealized security of childhood.

Sooner or later, you realize that everyday life is full of cracks. For example, you discover that loves, like friendships, aren’t eternal and that they often expire sooner than you expect. You also realize that not all dreams come true, many of your wishes are lost along the way, and not all of your efforts end up being rewarded, certainly less of them than you’d hoped.

To achieve psychological well-being it’s not enough to assume that life is imperfect. You must also learn how to be happy, despite life’s flaws and blemishes.

Our culture has long blinded us into believing that happiness is sweetness and perfection and that we can all achieve that state.

Woman looking at the sea thinking about the power of bittersweet
Life has a bittersweet taste that, sooner or later, we must get used to.

The power of bittersweet: the new trend to transform pain

Susan Cain is a renowned American writer and speaker. She’s the author of The Power of Introverts (2012) and has recently published a new book, Bittersweet (2022). In this work, she highlights the fact that for decades we’ve been emphasizing the need to experience positive valence emotions like joy, euphoria, fun, and enthusiasm.

These psycho-emotional states are promoted as direct highways to happiness and well-being. They’re the kinds of feelings we yearn for in order to feel fulfilled, complete, and happy. However, while these positive dynamics are emphasized, sadness, melancholy, longing, and disappointment are undervalued.

Susan Cain defines the power of bittersweet as the ability to appreciate and accept the imperfection of the world around us. She claims it’s extremely difficult to be happy without accepting that these are the rules of the game -regardless of whether we like them or not. After all, it was thanks to these kinds of experiences that many of our most renowned artists managed to transmute their pain into art.

Do you find comfort on a rainy day?

Rainy days also have their kind, comforting, and positive sides. They’re the kinds of moments that invite recollection and intimacy, as well as much-needed introspection in which you can make contact with yourself and set new goals. The power of the bittersweet invites you to discern the beauty of those moments that, for many, are imperfect.

A train that arrives late, an appointment that’s canceled, a sudden storm that alters your afternoon plans… If you cling to perfection and the need for everything to go well at all times, you’re doomed to suffer. On the other hand, if you accept those cracks that, from time to time, break into your everyday life, you’ll be able to see the light that shines through them, appreciate other perspectives, and even learn from those failed moments.

Imperfection and creativity as a form of catharsis

Allowing yourself to experience and appreciate the bittersweet comes from being part of a world that’s almost always flawed but, at the same time, stubbornly beautiful, explains Susan Cain. Because the power of the bittersweet also teaches a strategy for responding to pain. In effect, to turn that disappointment, pain, or grief into art.

Walt Whitman, in his texts and poems advised that “Every moment of light and dark is a miracle”. Another creative craftsman, Leonard Cohen, made his own melancholy an extremely fertile territory for his art. Indeed, his captivating music embraces us with emotions that aren’t particularly cheerful, but always healing and evocative.

“The place you suffer, in other words, is the same place you care profoundly- care enough to act.” 

-Susan Cain-

Woman looking at the rain and thinking about the power of bittersweet
Rain and sad music are ways to appreciate the power of the bittersweet.

The power of bittersweet in a nuance illiterate society

We live in a society that’s convinced that happiness means success, conquest, achievement, company, love, perfection, and luck. Therefore, from an early age, you internalized that the opposite of joy was sadness -a round face with an inverted smile.  The expression, in fact, that no one should show and that it’s better to avoid at all costs.

Our world is illiterate when it comes to capturing and appreciating the nuances and values of each emotion. For this reason, we need to educate about the power of the bittersweet. Sadness, melancholy, and longing are canvases on which we can trace new and essential meanings. In fact, from the blue color of hope to the black of depression, there exists a whole range of valuable, useful, and inspiring hues.

We need to broaden our perspectives and understand that pain has many forms and that these also complete us as human beings. As a matter of fact, only those who allow themselves to travel through these slightly grayer territories achieve the kind of learning that others are unable to acquire.


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Cain, Susan (2022) Agridulce. Urano. Madrid
  • Susan Cain (2021) El poder de los introvertidos. Urano. Madrid

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.