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3 minutes reading

Our "mental life" is linked to the lives we don't live.

Our "mental life" is linked to the lives we don't live. Our "mental life" is linked to the lives we don't live.
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Missing Out
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Missing Out
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The unexamined life is surely worth living, but is the unloved life worth examining? It seems a strange question until one realizes how much of our so-called mental life is about the lives we are not living, the lives we are missing out on, the lives we could be leading but for some reason are not.

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. We have to be aware of what is missing in our lives - even if this often obscures both what we already have and what is actually available - because we can survive only if our appetites more or less work for us. Indeed, we have to survive our appetites by making people cooperate with our wanting. We pressurize the world to be there for our benefit. And yet we quickly notice as children - it is, perhaps, the first thing we do notice - that our needs, like our wishes, are always potentially unmet. Because we are always shadowed by the possibility of not getting what we want, we lean, at best, to ironize our wishes - that is, to call our wants wishes: a wish is only a wish until, as we say, it comes true - and, at worst, to hate our needs. But we also learn to live somewhere between the lives we have and the lives we would like.(…)

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 unloved 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. But the exemptions we suffer, whether forced or chosen, make us who we are. As we know more now than ever before about the kinds of lives it is possible to live - and affluence has allowed more people than ever before to think of their lives in terms of choices and options - we are always haunted by the myth of our potential, of what we might have it in ourselves to be or do. So when we are not thinking, like the character in Randall Jarrell's poem, that "The ways we miss our lives is life", we are grieving or regretting or resenting our failure to be ourselves as we imagine we could be. We share our lives with the people we have failed to be.

We discover these unloved lives most obviously in our envy of other people, and in the conscious and unconscious) demands we make on our children to become something that was beyond us. And, of course, in our daily frustrations. Our lives become an elegy to needs unmet and desires sacrificed, to possibilities refused, to roads not taken. The myth of our potential can make of our lives a perpetual falling-short, a continual and continuing loss, a sustained and sometimes sustaining rage; though at its best it lures us into the future, but without letting us wonder why such lures are required (we become promising through the promises made to us). The myth of potential makes mourning and complaining feel like the realest things we eve do; and makes of our frustration a secret life of grudges. Even if we set aside the inevitable questions - How would we know if we had realized our potential? If we don't have potential what do we have? - we can't imagine our lives without the unloved lives they contain. We have an abiding sense, however obscure and obscured, that the lives we do lead are informed by the lives that escape us. That our lives are defined by loss, but loss of what might have been; loss, that is, of things never experienced

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