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Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life

3.49  ·  Rating details ·  1,428 ratings  ·  200 reviews
A transformative book about the lives we wish we had and what they can teach us about who we are.

All of us lead two parallel lives: the one we are actively living, and the one we feel we should have had or might yet have. As hard as we try to exist in the moment, the unlived life is an inescapable presence, a shadow at our heels. And this itself can become the story of our
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published June 1st 2012 by Hamish Hamilton (first published January 1st 2012)
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Bradd Saunders
Mar 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Adam Phillips is one of my favorite writers, though I understand why he drives some people crazy. He doesn't write self-help books, per se, so much as psychological and philosophical essays made with the idea that to better understand the nature of the self and the world results in a kind of self help -- you live better and in greater harmony with events, or, as he might put it, in greater harmony with your occasional disharmony when you operate from a more sophisticated understanding of your wo ...more
Jun 11, 2013 rated it it was ok
**Missing it on Missing Out**

My head is still spinning from this book. And, unfortunately, not in a productive way.

Similar to the experience of other reviewers, I had expectations that this book would offer a useful exploration of how looking at the yet-unlived aspects of our lives can help guide us towards more meaningful lives. Perhaps I was lured by the subtitle of “In praise of the unlived life” and the reviews on the back, which, in retrospect, were more about the undelivered promises foun
Keith Wilson
Apr 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
British psychoanalyst, Adam Phillips, must have had enough of writing about life as we actually live it. He’s the author of On Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored; Flirtation, etc. Now, he’s come out with a book that explores the life we have not lived, the effect of what we believe could’ve been. In the process of examining our fantasies, he illuminates reality.

Missing Out is written in non-technical language, but don’t attempt the book if you’re not up on Shakespeare. He relies far too much on t
C.M. Subasic
Aug 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Are you missing the joke of life? Are you ever satisfied? Do you seem to always live the life you don't have? Do fantasies seem more real than the world around you?

Adam Phillips is a psychoanalyst who also spends his Wednesdays writing. Originally standing firmly in the Freudian camp, from essay to essay and book to book he has drifted into the world of philosophy. In this book he looks at:

* How we can never understand what we really want until we can recognize the nature of our frustration.
Feb 03, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
2/14/2013: Well. That was tough. I was looking forward to reading this book, as it got good reviews and I love the premise that we all have unlived lives that are actually part of our lived lives, and that we need to accommodate those unlived lives into our lives and not feel regret that we can't have lived them. (Or…something like that. At least that's what I gleaned from the reviews!)

But I was not expecting what I got, which was a dense academic psychoanalytic study of frustration, satisfacti
Oct 05, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: unfinished
A very promising subject, but I never got past page 34. Here’s an example of Phillips’s occasionally repetitive, almost tongue-twister style: “Knowing too exactly what we want is what we do when we know what we want, or when we don’t know what we want.” (Starting to sound like Rumsfeld and his ‘known unknowns’ there!)
May 23, 2015 rated it did not like it
This is the first time in my life I've ever given up on a book after reading the prologue and two pages of chapter one. I'm an educated person, a published critic and editor, and this author's syntax is atrocious. He would never get past anyone who has edited my work and I would not allow this kind of sentence structure by in a work I edited. The dash is pretty much a punctuation mark to be used sparingly, not an excuse for not knowing or caring to use proper punctuation. The prologue must've ha ...more
May 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I love humanities, but we all know how boring psychologists, philosophers and sociologists can be. However, just like Harari in philosophy, Phillips can’t be boring in psychology. Both men are brilliant in their fields and yet they talk in our tongue when it comes to what makes us humans.

No labels - the prime reason for loving the man´s pen.

A friend who knows him has promised me the chance to meet him if I go back to visit UK next year. That’d be wonderful.

Not sure if I have posted this before,
Jan 04, 2016 rated it did not like it
This book was mis-titled to say the least. It's about psychoanalysis and Shakespeare, not life choices and the like. (It appealed to me because one of my favorite lines in poetry is Eliot's "footfalls echo in the memory down the passage which we did not take.")

I think I read most of it despite this, but I was annoyed the whole time.
Apr 17, 2013 rated it did not like it
Incomprehensible for layman reader,even for the one with academic background in psychology. Few interesting, aphoristically formed insights embedded in the ocean of psychoanalytic verbiage. Otherwise - well, not much more.
Neil Richardson
Aug 26, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Gave up on it. Pretentious, turgid and incoherent.
Mar 22, 2013 rated it liked it
I had high hopes for this book, and there's much to recommend it, but after a while the aphorism-upon-aphorism style becomes wearying, and I longed to shout at Phillips to please GROUND his discussion in scruffy real life. The starting premise is a terrific one--that most of our lives are taken up with fantasizing about, or mourning the lack of, experiences we aren't actually having. What to do with our endless tendency to ignore what we really are in favor of what we're convinced we coulda been ...more
Jul 12, 2020 rated it liked it
The title of this book is deceptive as there’s no specific goals that you might expect the author to be pointing you toward. Rather, there are five dense essays written in psychoanalytic terms that are not easy reading; “On Frustration,” “On Not Getting it”, “On Getting Away With It,” “On Getting Out Of It,” and “On Satisfaction,” as well as lengthy prologue and appendix. One interesting aspect of the book is that it use characters (Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth) from Shakespeare for some of its exam ...more
Frank Jude
Jul 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book's first two chapters are essays entitled "On Frustration" and "On Not Getting It." Rarely have I read a book that somehow induces the very state the writer is writing about! I found myself consistently wondering if I was "getting it," or being very sure that I was "not getting it," and yet I was "getting" something! Along with aesthetic pleasure, reading this book felt like a kind of healing. And yet, I'm at a loss to summarize what it is about!

The subtitle says, "In Praise of the Unli
Apr 18, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: mid-to, quits
This review is in praise of the unwritten book
The title is a lie. Along with the publisher's blurb of an absorbing book about our desires and dreams - the unlived life. The book is a starting point for the author to embark on a meandering stream of thoughts, almost completely unrelated to your expectations from the title.

The author takes us on a Freudian psychoanalytic tour of the 'unlived life'. But all good post-modern ventures
play on the the leakages in our language. Yes, there are many us
Jonna Higgins-Freese
Mar 24, 2015 rated it did not like it
The language was too philosophical and poststructurally arcane for me. And what I did understand, I disagreed with. Our unlived lives shouldn't define us -- if they do, we're not living in the reality of the present moment. ...more
Gail Holm
Apr 02, 2016 rated it it was ok
I tried unsuccessfully to follow Phillips' reasoning as he presents rambling psychoanalytic commentary on literature and drama to support his ideas. I felt as if I were reading a long undergraduate term paper written in stream-of-consciousness style.
Jun 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
i'd give the majority of the book 3 stars but the last essay (on acting madness) was so good that i'm bumping it up to 4 stars ...more
M. Sarki
Dec 04, 2016 rated it liked it

…In my version of strong reading , the strong reader is trying to rediscover what he hates, and he is looking for clues about how he can get out of it.

The title alone is reason enough to read this interesting elegy. But unfortunately, drawing from the works by William Shakespeare, Sigmund Freud, Henry James, and Winnicott failed to buy me out, even though the liberal offerings regarding the clinical experience of Adam Phillips did provide enough grist for
Lyn Relph
Sep 22, 2013 rated it liked it
If things go right for us at life’s start, bonding with mother is our first important experience. Mom can figure out what we need, what we want, and Mom can satisfy us. According to eminent British analyst Adam Phillips, however (in Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life), attachment to mother leads inevitably to a next experience, disappointment or frustration. Mom cannot maintain a perfect record, she eventually lets us down, and we resent that profoundly.

Frustration can hobble us, can mak
Sarah Boon
I felt like there was some critical information in this book, but I was always on the edge of discovering it rather than fully discovering it because the author wrote so damn obtusely! A great premise, some good ideas, but not meant for the average reader. Or maybe I'm a below-average reader in this case... ...more
Tom Quinn
Jul 16, 2018 rated it did not like it
Small confession time: for a long stretch of time after college, I would daily say to myself, "If I could change ONE THING about my life so far..." Then I'd imagine how things might have been different if I'd gone to a different school, or majored in a different subject, or asked a certain girl out, or not made one of the many mistakes that weighed on me much more than they needed to. After another decade or so passed I learned much more about the power of acceptance, and I'm pleased to say I'm ...more
Sonia  Belviso
Dec 15, 2017 rated it did not like it
First of all, the title is totally misleading. It is the prologue that basically summarizes the aspect of unlived life that primarily attracted me to read this, and the rest of the book has very little to do with it.
Second, this is an utter ragbag, full of trains of thoughts that were very hard to follow and keep attention to.
Never read such a mess.
Jun 24, 2015 rated it it was ok
This reads like the longest version of "who's on first?" I've ever encountered in a culture essay. I have no idea if the author knows what he wants to say because he doesn't know how he wants to say it. ...more
K. Vita
Jan 14, 2016 rated it did not like it
Made it to page 20 of this Ode to Frustration. Whew.

He seems quite taken with the experience of frustration, and hacks at it from every angle and def succeeds in giving this reader a frustrating experience.

May 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not the "self help" I'd hoped for...more like the trenchant psychoanalytic literary criticism I hadn't hoped for, but enjoyed anyway. ...more
I have several of those unlived lives. The versions of universe containing me who was smarter, kinder, braver (or less) which would've triggered different chains of reactions leading to different "destinies". Instead I'm here. And though I'm now living a life I once thought of as unlived life, I wonder sometimes what I should've done with this collection of alternative me.

So like a proper navel gazer and believer of book as provider of life wisdom, I read this book. I wouldn't say I have the wi
Mar 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
I’ll have to go back to this one. I loved many of the ideas described, and I say ‘described’ because it felt very literary, almost poetic, not as analytical as I had assumed. And while it works for me, I see why it wouldn’t work for others.
I still think it’s a great read in times of social distancing, it encourages much thought on our desires and frustrations. I wonder what my findings will be in less turbulent times.
Nov 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Some really excellent theory synthesis wearing the deceptive title of a self-help book. Mostly, this is a work of literary criticism, with a focus on psychoanalysis, which I've never enjoyed hearing about as much as I did here. Very smart, deftly written, and a genuine, insightful pleasure to listen to (audio-booked on my long pedestrian commute). ...more
Nov 05, 2019 rated it liked it
Too little Freud, too much Shakespeare
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Adam Phillips is a British psychotherapist and essayist.

Since 2003 he has been the general editor of the new Penguin Modern Classics translations of Sigmund Freud. He is also a regular contributor to the London Review of Books.

Phillips was born in Cardiff, Wales in 1954, the child of second-generation Polish Jews. He grew up as part of an extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins and describes

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