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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Comments (2)
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  • asgerd says:

    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.

  • Norman Buckley says:

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

    • asgerd says:

      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.

  • judijasa says:

    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.

  • Veronique says:

    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.

  • Luca says:

    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.

  • Tiana Kai says:

    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

  • Craig says:

    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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