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Self-help literature at its best

Miss it
Forfatter: Svend Brinkmann
Forlag: Gyldendal Business (Danmark)
Danish psychology professor Svend Brinkman preaches the gospel of austerity with great conviction.


Philosopher and psychologist Svend Brinkmann has in recent years come up with books that may well be called self-help literature, although this is a term rarely associated with something positive for the slightly more snobbish of us. I have to admit that I was skeptical when I started reading – but I was quickly pleasantly surprised. For like Martha Nussbaum, for example, Brinkmann believes that philosophy should be of practical use and not dust down the university bookshelves. The author also draws on the stoics – which Martha Nussbaum has written about Therapy of Desire – who claims that unless philosophy has a therapeutic value, it simply has little (maybe even no) value at all. Brinkmann's project is, in my opinion, an information project of the best brand, because it also popularizes and disseminates the most useful of a number of philosophers, psychologists and writers.

Freedom is the ability to let go. Freedom lies in moderation and frugality.

With their three books Stand firm (2014) standpoints (2016) and this year's release Miss it (2017) Brinkmann has given us a life-philosophical trilogy that misses its equal in recent Scandinavian case prose.

Something is good enough. In Brinkmann's latest book it is austerity og restriction which is on the schedule. We live in a world where gaining more and more and more, of all things, is often associated with happiness. But it is rather the ability to be satisfied with what one has that makes satisfaction actually within reach, the author believes. It externalized Happiness – one that relies on external phenomena such as assets or the affirmation of others – will only last a short time before we need replenishment, he believes. Obvious thoughts for many – but all the while very little indicates that this wisdom has sunk properly into our realization, the words are well worth repeating.

Brinkmann goes through several books where what we want is central, especially in a context of self-realization, which has such a strong focus today. Books like The Secret – which has actually become an international bestseller – take this ideology into the absurd, almost frightening, with its claim that if we just crave something strong enough, we will get it. The blindness in such reasoning is ridiculous, but unfortunately far too prevalent, Brinkmann believes. The ideology of self-realization is reflected in the over-consumption and self-consumption that erodes both the globe and the solidarity between people, points out the author, who encourages a more frugal orientering also at the collective level: we must learn «to say that someone or something is good enough».

We should imagine ourselves and our loved ones as dead, decaying corpses.

Freedom as moderation. In this context, too frihet something quite different from what many of us associate it with. For Brinkmann, freedom is not the ability to say, do or buy what you want, but the ability to let go on all the things we "must" express, act upon or own. Freedom lies in moderation and austerity. Brinkmann speaks warmly for that reflected life, which is reflected in how it is actually lived – according to him a far better life than that which constantly seeks satisfaction. Freedom is not just about the individual, but also about solidarity and thought – it is "a willingness to give up something where it is a benefit to another who needs it more".

Wanting everything, based on a fear of missing something, makes us the slave of our desires.

There is a timelessness in this that fascinates – where else can we find someone who insists on moderation in the tradition of Aristotle?

Negative visualization. Wanting everything, based on a fear of missing something, makes us slaves to our wishes, says the Danish psychologist – for the threshold of what we want is constantly moving in front of us as the conquest of new territories. It is brave of Brinkmann to write so directly against the spirit of the time. With reference to Søren Kierkegaard and his little story about the lilies in the field and the birds in the trees, he ends up in a praise of the simplicity, yes, the restraint and the tranquility that characterizes the human being who only hears and looks attentively. Tying on oneself and listening to others, and not always asserting their right, is a virtue we would greatly benefit from finding back to, he believes.

Brinkmann also returns to the Stoics when he launches an alternative to it the positive visualization most of the self-help literature is concerned with – which is often both false and superficial: "Imagine the great things you want to achieve!" No – instead of fantasizing about expensive cars, perfect partners and lucrative jobs, we should imagine ourselves as poor and sick – yes, more: We should imagine ourselves and our loved ones as dead, decaying corpses. Then you will be able to put the life you actually have here and now into perspective, and enjoy it.

"You have to choose something – miss most of it – to see anything at all," says Brinkmann. Amen.

Kjetil Røed
Kjetil Røed
Freelance writer.

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