PARING DOWN LIFE TO THE ESSENTIALS: An Epicurean Psychodynamics of Midlife Change

Carlo Strenger*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


This article presents a psychodynamic hypothesis about a certain type of productive midlife change often to be observed in creative individuals. This model is called paring down life to the essentials and is connected to the Epicurean tradition. It is exemplified by analyzing the autobiographical narrative of Charles Handy, a leading business philosopher, who at midlife left his previous employment to dedicate himself to writing about the search for meaning in a capitalist world. The psychodynamic interpretation of this process dialectically bridges between Elliot Jacques seminal interpretation of the resolution of the midlife crisis as acceptance of mortality and Ernest Becker's theory that the denial of death is one of the deepest human motivations-a hypothesis strongly corroborated by empirical research. Focusing life on a heightened process of creation at midlife is shown to reflect both death acceptance and denial of death. It is argued that this model for midlife change could be of importance in contemporary consumerist culture.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)246-258
Number of pages13
JournalPsychoanalytic Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2009


  • death-acceptance
  • death-denial
  • existential psychology
  • midlife


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