The Joy Of Missing Out: The Art Of Self-Restraint In An Age Of Excess by Svend Brinkmann

The Blurb On The Back:

”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. 

You can order The Joy Of Missing Out: The Art Of Self-Restraint In An Age Of Excess by Svend Brinkmann from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Svend Brinkmann is professor of psychology at Aalborg University and in this readable book (translated from Danish by Tam McTurk) he examines the values of self-restraint and moderation to combat the Fear Of Missing Out lifestyle.  However, while Brinkmann makes strong psychological and philosophical arguments for why moderation is good for you, he doesn’t give any guidance on how to practice it and so it feels a little half-done as a subject.

Brinkmann views this book as part of a triumvirate that stands alongside his previous books STAND FIRM (which criticised the self development movement) and STANDPOINTS (which identified the basic ethical values that people should seek to defend) and sees THE JOY OF MISSING OUT as a discussion of ways to live that would make it possible for society to focus on the values of those two proceeding books.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t read those books (although I will now seek to do so) so I cannot comment on whether he succeeds in this aim.  I mention this because those of you who have read them may find this book more successful when considered against his overall aim.

Where this book works is in examining just how and why society has evolved into this FOMO and You Only Live Once (YOLO) pursuit and why this is a self-inflicted crisis based on overconsumption. Particularly good is his chapter that focuses on the political arguments for learning to make do as a way of encouraging sustainability and equality.  I found this very readable (even though Brinkmann does bring in political and sociological theory) although there is nothing new here if you have a general interest in equality and sustainability generally.

Also good was his chapter on the psychology of self-control and what he terms the “hedonic treadmill” where we constantly strive for something, only to find that it quickly loses its lustre once we attain it so we look for the next thing to work towards.  Given that Brinkmann’s background is psychology, it perhaps isn’t surprising how he writes about this with a conversational fluidity that I found very engaging and I was particularly interested in how he links this back to the push towards individualism while also mentioning the self help phenomenon (which I guess is one of the intentional links between this book and STAND FIRM) and how it works to reinforce feelings of inadequacy.

Where I struggled was with the chapters that focused on the existential, ethical and aesthetic arguments.  This is partly because there’s a lot of academic argument here and a lot of philosophy (which is an area I usually find difficult to follow and engage with).  I did enjoy his exploration of Greek philosophy insofar as it relates to moderation – mainly because I could follow this quite easily and because I hadn’t realised how much I had misunderstood about Greek ideas on self-control but also because Brinkmann makes a point of contextualising some of it in how Ancient Greek society operated.

Ultimately, while I thought Brinkmann makes his case for why moderation is a good thing, he doesn’t have a lot to say on just how you can counter these societal and psychological forces that are constantly on at you to acquire more and push for bigger, brighter and more expensive experiences.  I acknowledge that this is not a self-help book (and clearly Brinkmann has strong thoughts on that topic) but equally it does feel that there’s something missing in a book that identifies problems and why a solution is good but leaves that solution down to your own strength in character and sense of personal restraint, the failure of which is the reason why we have the problem to begin with. As such, I thought that this is one of those books that gets the run-up and the main moves rights but then fails to make the landing, although I have to say that I would nonetheless check out Brinkmann’s other work on the strength of this.

THE JOY OF MISSING OUT was released in the United Kingdom on 8th February 2019.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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