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Musings on the Life Unlived

Though I haven’t read the book, here are a few excerpts from the prologue of MISSING OUT: IN PRAISE OF THE UNLIVED LIFE by Adam Phillips (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2013). Although some of you may scratch your heads as you read—Phillips is a complex, deep thinker and philosophical writer—I hope you’re able to appreciate how you can use these concepts to help in resolving your eating and body image problems.

On it being okay to want and not have what you want: “What we fantasize about, what we long for, are the experiences, the things, and the people that are absent. It is the absence of what we need that makes us think, that makes us cross and sad. But we [also] learn to live somewhere between the lives we have and the lives we would like.”

On creating the story of our lives: “There is always what will turn out to be the life we led, and the life that accompanied it, the parallel life (or lives) that never actually happened, that we lived in our minds, the wished-for life (or lives): the risks untaken and the opportunities avoided or unprovided. We refer to them as our unlived lives because somewhere we believe that they were open to us, but for some reason—and we might spend a great deal of our lived lives trying to find and give the reason—they were not possible. And what was not possible all too easily becomes the story of our lives. Indeed, our lived lives might become a protracted mourning for, or an endless tantrum about, the lives we were unable to live. We become obsessed, in a new way, by what is missing in our lives, and by what sabotages the pleasures we seek.”

On the connection between frustration and satisfaction: “Missing out on one experience, we have another one. And then the comparisons are made. We choose by exclusion. The right choice is the one that makes us lose interest in the alternatives, but we can never know beforehand which the right choice will be. When we are frustrated, the unlived life is always beckoning; the unlived life of gratified desire returns as a possibility. Waiting too long poisons desire, but waiting too little preempts it; the imagining is in the waiting…Wanting takes time; partly because it takes some time to get over the resistances to wanting, and partly because we are often unconscious of what it is that we do want. But the worst thing we can be frustrated about is frustration itself; to be deprived of frustration is to be deprived of the possibilities of satisfaction…So before our satisfaction, it is our frustration we need to turn to.”

Don’t be shy about doing a second reading to let Phillips’ concepts sink in.