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The Joy of Missing Out
The Art of Self-Restraint in an Age of Excess
'Because you're worth it', proclaims the classic cosmetics ad. 'Just do it!' implores the global sports retailer. Everywhere we turn, we are constantly encouraged to experience as much as possible, for as long as possible, in as many ways as possible. FOMO - Fear of Missing Out - has become a central preoccupation in a world fixated on the never-ending pursuit of gratification and self-fulfilment.
But this pursuit can become a treadmill leading nowhere. How can we break out of it? In this refreshing book, bestselling Danish philosopher and psychologist Svend Brinkmann reveals the many virtues of missing out on the constant choices and temptations that dominate our experience-obsessed consumer society. By cultivating self-restraint and celebrating moderation we can develop a more fulfilling way of living that enriches ourselves and our fellow humans and protects the planet we all share - in short, we can discover the joy of missing out.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
It’s clear that there is a burgeoning trend in less. Less stuff, less waste, less social media. The Joy of Missing Out is a study along these lines, but is written very much in the realms of philosophy rather than self-help. Indeed, societal inclinations towards endless self-help is implied to be part of the problem here by Svend Brinkmann.
Essentially, our tendency never to be satisfied is a symptom of unhappiness. In a timely fashion, my youngest daughter brought home a book from school this week about a humble stone cutter who wishes himself more and more powerful; becoming a prince, the sun, a cloud and the mountain itself until he finally wishes himself back to being a stone cutter. The messages in my book and my four year old’s book are pretty aligned. No matter how much you have, whether you feel dissatisfied is subjective and this is something within your control. So to reject dissatisfaction is to achieve contentment.
Of course, Svend Brinkmann’s book is much more complex than the fable, outlining as it does arguments in political, existential, ethical and psychological spheres. These arguments are geared towards the simplification of life, the virtue of moderation and the importance of good. The writing is pretty cerebral so you have to concentrate to ensure you don’t get lost in the philosophy. But Brinkmann practices what he preaches in his book and is pretty concise; the text itself coming in at under 100 pages before we get to reference notes.
The fact that the author is Danish is perhaps telling, since the Danes are reportedly the happiest nation on the planet. Brinkmann references this himself and contemplates in an aside why this is. He suggests that perhaps it is because as a nation they ‘have relatively low expectations of life’ - a ‘cultural stoicism’. In this same chapter he contrasts this stoicism with the ‘positive thinking’ (or fabrication of reality) of the likes of Donald Trump. Personally, I’d rather be with the Danes.
I especially like the how the theories explored in this book acknowledge privilege and the elite. This is something that’s always bothered me so it was refreshing that it wasn’t conveniently ignored by Brinkmann. ‘Equality is… a precious commodity… where global inequality is increasingly spiralling out of control’ he says. So although we don’t find answers to global inequality, at least it’s recognised and appreciated.
The importance of ritual is key to many of Brinkmann’s concepts. He even cites repetitive daily chores such as making packed lunches for the kids. This example rang true for me as we limp to the end of term, since I’m sick to the back teeth of wretched packed lunches! However, I know that come the end of the school holidays, I’ll be desperate for that structure and framework that the school term instills. This is just one example of the human charm of this author. He also admits, when discussing self restraint, that he finds it almost impossible to stop playing a particular computer game once he starts. It’s refreshing to read thoughts from someone who does not claim to be a paragon of virtue!
Although Svend Brinkmann pins the phrase JOMO (Joy of Missing out) as an antithesis to FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), this book doesn’t get preoccupied with what constitutes joy. So I guess that’s left up to us as the reader. On happiness he says ‘we think that we should be happy all the time, and constantly chase new ideas and concepts to make us more and more happy’. Instead we should strive towards ‘the right kind of moderation’.
The book is clear that we should be able to derive pleasure from simplicity of life much as simple structures in nature and art can inspire the same. But joy? To me, joy means a wave of warm feeling. And actually I’m pretty much sold on being able to feel this through more sustainable daily life. I guess all we need is to make space to fully appreciate what’s around us, and - yes - that can only happen if we ditch other stuff. So, Mr Brinkmann, count me in!
'The Joy of Missing Out makes a powerful, compelling and much-needed argument for self-restraint - on pragmatic grounds, moral grounds, psychological grounds and even aesthetic grounds. Be sure to read this book before your next shopping trip, or job change, or relationship change. This is as good a case as I have seen for when and why less can be more.'
Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice and co-author of Practical Wisdom
"An exhilarating broadside against the intense modern pressure to do more, be more, to become happier and more productive, and to 'find yourself '. In championing Stoicism over the relentless and exhausting wild-goose chase of self-help, Svend Brinkmann - though he might not like the fact - has written a book that truly helps."
Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian
"This volume by the Danish psychology professor Svend Brinkmann is designed to liberate us from over-stimulated modern lives through the old fashioned ideas of restraint and moderation." Financial Times
"This smart little pamphlet is, in a way, a manifesto for personal degrowth, or shrinkage."
Steven Poole, The Guardian
Moya Sarner, The Guardian