“We’re not very good at understanding what it is that we really want. We’re extremely prone to latch onto suggestions from the outside world.” – Alain de Botton
Alain de Botton (@alaindebotton) is many things, but I think of him as a rare breed of practical philosopher.
In 1997, he turned away from writing novels and instead wrote an extended essay titled How Proust Can Change Your Life, which became an unlikely blockbuster.
His subsequent books have been described as a ‘philosophy of everyday life’ and subjects include love, travel, architecture, religion and work. His other bestsellers include Essays In Love, Status Anxiety, and The Architecture Of Happiness. More recent works include The News: A User’s Manual, which looks at the impact our obsession with checking news has on our minds, and Art as Therapy, co-written with the art historian John Armstrong.
In 2008, de Botton helped start The School of Life in London, a social enterprise determined to make learning and therapy relevant in today’s uptight culture. His goal is (through any of his mediums) to help clients learn “how to live wisely and well.”
In our wide-ranging conversation, we cover many things, including:
- Real-world versus academic philosophy
- The value of rituals and tribes
- Practical pessimism
- “Ordinary genius”
- The magic of pomegranates
- Lesser-known modern thinkers
- Why “mean” is often simply “anxious”
- His favorite Japanese pens
- And much more!
Want to hear another podcast related to emotional intelligence? — Listen to my conversation with Brené Brown. In this episode, we discuss vulnerability and home run TED talks (stream below or right-click here to download):
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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What life stressors do you wish you could handle better? What do you currently do to solve the problem(s), and what do you think is missing? Please let me know in the comments.
Scroll below for links and show notes…
Selected Links from the Episode
John Armstrong | Martha Nussbaum | Jamie Oliver
Twitter | Facebook | Website | YouTube (Subscribe)
- How do you answer the question, “what do you do?” [7:43]
- How Alain de Botton started with his studies in emotional intelligence [11:23]
- On gaining mainstream success and the importance of “proving” oneself [17:08]
- On mixing nonfiction and fiction writing [21:23]
- Alain de Botton’s most influential writers and books [22:58]
- The impact of How Proust Can Change Your Life [24:38]
- How writing a book on daily habits changed Alain de Botton’s life [30:23]
- How to balance setting low expectations and striving to achieve great things [35:38]
- Complex philosophy vs useful philosophy [39:53]
- Alain de Botton’s pre-Cambridge years [59:38]
- Best practices to help status anxiety [1:03:08]
- Where Alain de Botton would like to be in three years [1:10:08]
- On developing the skill of listening [1:16:23]
- When you think of the word successful, who is the first person that comes to mind and why? [1:25:13]
- Most gifted books [1:29:28]
- What is something you believe that other people think is insane? [1:30:38]
- Utilitarian philosophers, artificial intelligence and future roles of philosophy [1:36:08]
- Favorite documentaries and movies [1:40:08]
- What purchase of $100 or less purchase has provided the most positive effect on your life [1:41:58]
- Valuable daily rituals and routines [1:44:18]
- If you could put a billboard anywhere and write anything on it, where would it be and what would it say? [1:47:18]
- Advice to your 30-year-old self [1:48:08]
Posted on: November 10, 2015.
Please check out Tribe of Mentors, my newest book, which shares short, tactical life advice from 100+ world-class performers. Many of the world's most famous entrepreneurs, athletes, investors, poker players, and artists are part of the book. The tips and strategies in Tribe of Mentors have already changed my life, and I hope the same for you. Click here for a sample chapterand full details. Roughly 90% of the guests have never appeared on my podcast.
Who was interviewed? Here's a very partial list: tech icons (founders of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Craigslist, Pinterest, Spotify, Salesforce, Dropbox, and more), Jimmy Fallon, Arianna Huffington, Brandon Stanton (Humans of New York), Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ben Stiller, Maurice Ashley (first African-American Grandmaster of chess), Brené Brown (researcher and bestselling author), Rick Rubin (legendary music producer), Temple Grandin (animal behavior expert and autism activist), Franklin Leonard (The Black List), Dara Torres (12-time Olympic medalist in swimming), David Lynch (director), Kelly Slater (surfing legend), Bozoma Saint John (Beats/Apple/Uber), Lewis Cantley (famed cancer researcher), Maria Sharapova, Chris Anderson (curator of TED), Terry Crews, Greg Norman (golf icon), Vitalik Buterin (creator of Ethereum), and nearly 100 more. Check it all out by clicking here.
Essays in Love
Essays in Love is a novel about two young people, who meet on an airplane between London and Paris and rapidly fall in love. The structure of the story isn’t unusual, but what lends the book its interest is the extraordinary depth with which the emotions involved in the relationship are analysed. Love comes under the philosophical microscope. An entire chapter is devoted to the nuances and subtexts of an initial date. Another chapter mulls over the question of how and when to say ‘I love you’. There’s an essay on how uncomfortable it can be to disagree with a lover’s taste in shoes and a lengthy discussion about the role of guilt in love.
The book is an intriguing blend of novel and non-fiction. As in a novel, there are characters and realistic settings, but these are blended in with a host of more abstract ideas. The book has attracted a particular following among those who have recently fallen in love - or come out of a relationship.