Alain de Botton: The Glass of Life is Half Empty

Here are a few basic truths: life is essentially meaningless; your hard work won’t dictate where your life goes; you will be struck down by death; and your loved ones and your achievements will whither and turn to dust. A grim way to look at things perhaps. But a long line of philosophers, starting with the Stoics, have seen wisdom in taking a dim view. As Alain de Botton points out, a pessimistic outlook reduces our expectations, our envy, our disappointment, and it creates room for emotional upside and healthier life decisions. The talk (which features a sing-along to Elton John at the 29 minute mark) runs 38 wisdom-filled minutes, and it’s presented online by The School of Life, a London-based institution co-founded by de Botton in 2008. A big thanks to Miguel for sending this our way…

Related Content:

Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness (also by Alain de Botton)



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  1. asgerd says . . . | March 11, 2011 / 9:45 am

    Unfortunately AdB could find the rusty nail in an ocean of cheerios. Making a virtue of misery is one thing – cringing in fear at all of life is something else.

  2. Norman Buckley says . . . | March 12, 2011 / 10:41 am

    @asgerd “cringing in fear at all of life is something else…” i don’t think he was saying that in any way whatsoever.

  3. asgerd says . . . | March 21, 2011 / 4:48 pm

    If you follow him for any length of time, that’s the (or my, at least) abiding impression. And I think there IS a good element of that here too.

  4. judijasa says . . . | June 27, 2011 / 2:00 pm

    Seneca’s pessimism as an strategy to scape from deception falls in the same problem of optimism, it creates a fiction, it creates a distance between our perception and reality. I think Nietzsche was more in the right track (is there any?) since he encourages to face the truth, as painful as might be. Also encourages the creative nature of suffering. I wonder if seneca had also assigned such features and if so, what emphasis they had in his overall philosophy.

  5. Veronique says . . . | December 7, 2011 / 9:31 am

    Like his audience, I found AdB’s ‘sermon’ most enjoyable with not a few little insights along the way.

    His points are well made; some of them salutary.

    I have read some of his books but this is the first time I have heard him speak. He has a dryness that I actively like.

  6. Luca says . . . | October 8, 2012 / 2:26 am

    Thanks for that. I enjoy Alain DB’s company a great deal. A fine reading suggestion I got from him on Twitter more than a year ago now is the habit of reading The Unquiet Grave by Palinurus. Well worth it.

  7. Tiana Kai says . . . | October 8, 2012 / 1:19 pm

    This has sparked some exciting (depressing) ideas for me. Looking at life from this angle has been more insightful and inspiring than those self help books you’ve mentioned. Not everyone makes it, and not everyone should. I think finding the peace in that is the key to happiness. Great talk! thank you. tiana

  8. Craig says . . . | October 9, 2012 / 10:01 am

    Exactly what is needed in the world we live in. This mindless optimism practiced so naively in the USA and now elsewhere fuels commerce and nothing else. It is the foundation for pills books seminars DVD etc for people with no spiritual depth and a refusal to accept that which is bigger than they can change. I feel more content on a bus on a rainy day in Warsaw than sitting at my Starbucks in Brentwood looking at all the clients of yoga and bar method feeling they are somehow reaching more depth than just some exercise and chatting. Pass the garlic please

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