The Joy of Missing Out

The aphorisms YOLO (you only live once) and FOMO (fear of missing out) have become broadly accepted phrases across many generations during the past decade, and are no longer relegated to just the vocabulary of Millennials or Generation Z. Traditionally associated with living in the moment and the pursuit of self-gratification, there has been a cultural shift in pursuing consistently new and exciting experiences; arguably exacerbated by the advances in technology and creation of Facebook, Instagram etc. The book The Joy of Missing Out: The Art of Self-Restraint in an Age of Excess by Svend Brinkmann examines the case for moderation and temperance in an age where individuals are continuously bombarded by marketing aimed at improving one’s self. The case presented by Brinkmann for missing out on certain experiences is broken down into four sections: political, existential, aesthetics, and psychological.

Traditionally when proponents of moderation discuss the benefits of self-restraint it is usually from a psychological perspective, so it is interesting that Brinkmann actively explores other avenues for his argument. For those readers that are familiar with secular Buddhism, the section relating to psychology will likely resonate the most, as Brinkmann examines the ‘hedonic treadmill’ and how as individuals we grow accustomed to certain stimuli. The result is that when we experience joy from a conquest, the marginal returns to happiness are short-lived and diminish quickly, pushing us to re-embark on a new conquest to satiate the feeling of accomplishment that ultimately leaves us psychologically unsatisfied. Brinkmann uses Socrates’ comparison of human desire to a leaky bucket: no matter how much we fill it, the water leaks out again, leaving only a hole and a craving for more. After building a case for seeking moderation in everyday life, Brinkmann opines on how embracing self-restraint could help to improve the current state of humanity through solving some of the more pressing social issues such as inequality.

Brinkmann proposes that the idea that everyone can be the master of their own destiny if they are just sufficiently motivated is faulty, as the never-ending search for personal development underappreciates the role of chance in life. This effectively shifts blame to the individual if things don’t go as planned. Furthermore, designing social systems that appreciate the role luck plays in life can potentially help with the inequality experienced in developed nations, as those well-off might be more inclined to accept less today, given that one day down the road they may fall on the wrong side of luck and find themselves vulnerable and in need of help. A good read for those interested in the psychological impact associated with constantly pursing new experiences, and those who want to explore what JOMO (joy of missing out) is all about.