On paper, being good sounds great but a lot depends on the atmosphere of the workplace or community we live in. We tend to become good or bad depending on the cues sent out within a particular space.
What is fascinating about marriage is why anyone wants to get married.
A city like London is sociable in a sense that there are people gathering in bars and restaurants, concerts and lectures. Yet you can partake of all these experiences and never say hello to anyone new. And one of the things that all religions do is take groups of strangers into a space and say it is OK to talk to each other.
The thing is that love gives us a ringside seat on somebody else’s flaws, so of course you’re gonna spot some things that kinda need to be mentioned. But often the romantic view is to say, ‘If you loved me, you wouldn’t criticise me.’ Actually, true love is often about trying to teach someone how to be the best version of themselves.
I learnt to stop fantasising about the perfect job or the perfect relationship because that can actually be an excuse for not living.
It’s almost a blessing when we meet people who naturally want to do the sort of things that are in high demand in society. What a gift to do that, as opposed to other people who would say, ‘I want to be a novelist but actually I have to be an accountant.’
The philosophy I love is very selective. It is really just the bit that is involved in a search for wisdom, and this means a short roll call of names; Socrates, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epicurus, Montaigne, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche.
I am conscious of trying to stretch the boundaries of non-fiction writing. It’s always surprised me how little attention many non-fiction writers pay to the formal aspects of their work.
The Arab-Israeli conflict is also in many ways a conflict about status: it’s a war between two peoples who feel deeply humiliated by the other, who want the other to respect them. Battles over status can be even more intractable than those over land or water or oil.
My greatest joy comes from creativity: from feeling that I have been able to identify a certain aspect of human nature and crystallise a phenomenon in words.
The arrogance that says analysing the relationship between reasons and causes is more important than writing a philosophy of shyness or sadness or friendship drives me nuts. I can’t accept that.
As an atheist, I think there are lots of things religions get up to which are of value to non-believers – and one of those things is trying to be a bit better than we normally manage to be.
What bothers me is that there is so much emphasis on food, rather than gathering and meeting – so that there is all this effort in creating the right food, whereas the food is only a small part of whether the encounter is successful or not.
I passionately believe that’s it’s not just what you say that counts, it’s also how you say it – that the success of your argument critically depends on your manner of presenting it.
Pick up any newspaper or magazine, open the TV, and you’ll be bombarded with suggestions of how to have a successful life. Some of these suggestions are deeply unhelpful to our own projects and priorities – and we should take care.
Status anxiety definitely exists at a political level. Many Iraqis were annoyed with the US essentially for reasons of status: for not showing them respect, for humiliating them.
We are certainly influenced by role models, and if we are surrounded by images of beautiful rich people, we will start to think that to be beautiful and rich is very important – just as in the Middle Ages, people were surrounded by images of religious piety.
We may seek a fortune for no greater reason than to secure the respect and attention of people who would otherwise look straight through us.
I assemble my ideas in pieces on a computer file, then gradually find a place for them on a piece of scaffolding I erect.
I am always anxious.
I think people want to get married to end their emotional uncertainty. In a way, they want to end powerful feelings, or certainly the negative ones.
It’s very hard to respect people on holiday – everybody looks so silly at the beach, it makes you hate humanity – but when you see people at their work they elicit respect, whether it’s a mechanic, a stonemason or an accountant.
There are few more effective ways to promote tolerance between suspicious neighbours than to force them to eat supper together.
As for despair, it comes about when I have been a fool and hate myself and despair of my personality. I am prone to gloom, but not depression as such.
Le Corbusier is an outstanding writer. His ideas achieved their impact in large measure because he could write so convincingly. His style is utterly clear, brusque, funny and polemical in the best way.
I was uncomfortable writing fiction. My love was the personal essay, rather than the novel.
I was foreign and Jewish, with a funny name, and was very small and hated sport, a real problem at an English prep school. So the way to get round it was to become the school joker, which I did quite effectively – I was always fooling around to make the people who would otherwise dump me in the loo laugh.
I feel that the great challenge of our time is the communication of ideas.
I’m also interested in the modern suggestion that you can have a combination of love and sex in a marriage – which no previous society has ever believed.
It’s clear to me that there is no good reason for many philosophy books to sound as complicated as they do.
Kant and Hegel are interesting thinkers. But I am happy to insist that they are also terrible writers.
I am not a foodie, thank goodness. I will eat pretty much anything. A lot of my friends are getting incredibly fussy about food and I see it as a bit of an affliction.
Work is a way of bringing order to chaos, and there’s a basic satisfaction in seeing that we are able to make something a little more coherent by the end of the day.
I love the idea of a university as away from capitalist values, where people can do things that don’t immediately have to pay their way. It’s like a monastery in a way, and that beautiful refuge has been destroyed by dogma about what this stuff is for.
I waste most of the day, then finally start to write around 3 P.M., totally disgusted with myself for my wasteful nature.
I’ve had my successes and failures. I know many academics in my field loathe me. I’ve come to loathe them back, as it seems only polite to do so. But at heart it’s absurd; we should band together against the big common enemies.
In Britain, because I live here, I can also run into problems of envy and competition. But all this is just in a day’s work for a writer. You can’t put stuff out there without someone calling you a complete fool. Oh, well.
All tours are filled with humiliation. My publisher once hired a private jet to fly me to a venue where 1,000 people were waiting. It almost bankrupted him.
Never, ever become a writer. It’s a nightmare.
My writing always came out of a very personal place, out of an attempt to stay sane.
I went to church and couldn’t swallow it. The music was nice but I don’t belong there.
When work is not going well, it’s useful to remember that our identities stretch beyond what is on the business card, that we were people long before we became workers – and will continue to be human once we have put our tools down forever.
Many moments in religion seem attractive to me even though I can’t believe in any of it.
When I see someone like Richard Dawkins, I see my father. I grew up with that. I’m basically the child of Richard Dawkins.
Social media has lots of benefits, but compared to Christianity, it tends to group people by interests. Religion puts you with people who have nothing in common except that you’re human.
I know a lot about writing, but I don’t know much about how other industries work. I’ve tried to use my naivety to my advantage.
I keep a picture of my beloved children close by. Also, water and plenty of pads and pens.
I always feel that I am writing for somebody who is bright but impatient. Someone who doesn’t have unlimited time. That is my sense of the reader. So I have got to get to the point.
My father paid for my education; then he made it clear that I was on my own.
Booksellers are the most valuable destination for the lonely, given the numbers of books that were written because authors couldn’t find anyone to talk to.
Virtue is its own reward. We only invented concepts like heaven and hell to describe how we feel. We don’t feel good doing bad and it’s nice to help someone.
There are people who say, ‘Oh this guy is quite thick.’ I think the reason is that, increasingly, I don’t mind being simple in terms of literary expression. Others say, ‘No, no, no. He went to Cambridge. He got a good degree. He must be Einstein.’
When I’m writing, I write all day. Other days, I sit around thinking. Or I run around from one meeting to another, out in the world. It varies, and I like that.
I was a very un-literary child, which might reassure parents with kids who don’t read.
There is militaristic-hegemonic-plutocratic side of the U.S. which is getting out of hand and threatens to corrupt the whole republic. I remain a deeply concerned, committed admirer, but also a very worried one.
Atheism is having a heyday in the born-again United States.
There may be significant things to learn about people by looking at what annoys them most.
I am a very aesthetic person.
I think I have grown impatient with just being a writer.
I like working with people. I believe change can only come through collaboration.
Learning to give up on perfection may be just about the most romantic move any of us could make.
We don’t sulk with everybody. We limit our sulks to a very particular person: the person who’s supposed to love us and understand us. And we make this equation that if you love me, you’re supposed to understand me even if I don’t explain what’s wrong.
Laughter is an important part of a good relationship. It’s an immense achievement when you can move from your thinking that your partner is merely an idiot to thinking that they are that wonderfully complex thing called a loveable idiot. And often that means having a little bit of a sense of humour about their flaws.
When a restaurant is too popular, it starts to harm the reason you are there.
I remember going to university, and the people who’d left home for the first time looked at the food and were horrified. Whereas, my view was that if it was vaguely edible, then it’s fine.
There’s a certain kind of insular, old-fashioned, upper-class Britishness that gives me the spooks. I am sure that comes from a boarding-school trauma.
Love is something that we need to learn.
Many of our ideas of what love is comes from stories… these are extremely powerful shapers of our attitudes towards love, and I think that, in some ways, often we’ve got the wrong story.
Among adults, we can admit that of course, characters are creations. They aren’t real people.
I think a certain degree of pessimism is actually helpful to love.
There’s a constant tension between the excitement of new people and security with one person. If you go with excitement, you create chaos; you hurt people. There’s jealousy, and it gets very messy. If you have security, it can be boring, and you die inside because of all the opportunities missed.
I think of myself as quite a shy person. But when I’m curious about something, I’ll go quite far to satisfy my curiosity.
I was an incredibly lonely, very alienated teenager.
I like the values associated with a medical family – common sense, being practical but also thoughtful.
A gray V-neck pullover from Gap. I have 30 of them.
My office. It’s drab and boring but quiet.
The best cure for one’s bad tendencies is to see them fully developed in someone else.
I think it is very possible that my deeper character is not very English.
Sometimes my biography is interpreted as the upbringing of a French aristocrat. It was very, very different. We were a family of mercantile, immigrant Jews.
I was told by my father nine times a day that you were going to get a job the minute you finish your studies.
Advertising is – quite often – alive to our real needs. It’s just the products on offer might not be the things that will help us satisfy them.
The solution as consumers is – perhaps surprisingly – to take adverts very, very seriously. We should ask ourselves what it is that we find lovely in them – the visions of friendship, togetherness, repose, or whatever. And then consider what would actually help us find these qualities in our lives.
Therapy and counseling can do wonderful things for people. But they have emerged so far as what are sometimes called ‘cottage industries’ – that is, as individuals or small groups offering generally quite expensive services to a few clients.
The central task for a business is to make a profit. The challenge is to make a profit by doing things which are genuinely good for people and good for societies.
Most of the time, we make discoveries about how difficult people are at the moment when the difficulties have actually hurt us; therefore, we are not likely to be forgiving or sympathetic.
In the early days of love sometimes, you will report an ecstatic feeling you have met someone who seems to understand you without you needing to speak.
Often we think love is a feeling: that you spontaneously experience it.
If you are pro love, you have to be a little bit disloyal to the romantic feelings that propel you in the early days.
There’s something called religion, and it was invented a long time ago by people who felt very out of control with their lives, who didn’t know… why the sun always rose over the mountains.
I tell my children what I think myself: That religion is not necessarily convincing, but it is still interesting and not to be laughed at or denigrated.
I see religion as a storehouse of lots of really good ideas that a secular world should look at, raid, and learn from.
The claims I’m making for art are simply the claims that we naturally make around music or around poetry. We’re much more relaxed around those art forms. We’re willing to ask, ‘How could this find a place in my heart?’
My theory is that many of the things that move us are things we long for but find hard to do.
Sweetness is the opposite of machismo, which is everywhere – and I really don’t get on with machismo. I’m interested in sensitivity and weakness and fear and anxiety because I think that, at the end of the day, behind our masks, that’s what we are.
Some of the reason why we marry the wrong people is that we don’t really understand ourselves.
Sometimes I say to people, ‘Do you think you’re easy to live with?’ People who are single. And the ones who say, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’m pretty easy to live with; it’s just a question of finding the right person,’ massive alarm bell rings in my mind.
If you’re understood in maybe, I don’t know, 60% of your soul by your partner, that’s fantastic. Don’t expect that it’s going to be 100%. Of course you will be lonely.
You will often be in despair. You will sometimes think it’s the worst decision in your life. That’s fine. That’s not a sign your marriage has gone wrong. It’s a sign that it’s normal; it’s on track. And many of the hopes that took you into the marriage will have to die in order for the marriage to continue.
The death of marriage has been announced so often and would seem so normal, in a sense. So what’s surprising is the sheer longevity and tenacity of this institution.
I don’t want to say that our expectations of love are too high; it’s just that if we’re to meet them, we have to become a little more self-aware.
I love novels where not much ‘happens’ but where the interest is in the ideas and analyses of characters.
Everyone’s more vulnerable than they seem, and I think men are more vulnerable. Once you get close to a man, the whole thing’s a facade anyway. I think manhood is fragile.
The number one person who needs my books is me. I’m not some sort of disinterested guru who has worked life out and is handing things out to the poor people who might not have life worked out.
What I do know from my life is the phenomenon of saying, ‘This is too small a thing to argue about’, but then nevertheless finding oneself in that argument.
Used to do a lot of falling in love with people, almost in the street, and imagining that there would be no obstacle to a happy love story other than finding the ‘right person’.
I’m one of those introverted people who simply feels a lot better after spending time alone thinking through ideas and emotions. This is a sign, I’ve come to think, of a kind of emotional disturbance – a reaction to inner fragility. I wish I were more able to just act and do, rather than constantly have to retreat and examine and think.
The greatest compliment I get about my writing is when people say, ‘How did you know so much about me?’ And of course, the answer is very simple: ‘I just observed myself without sentimentality.’
Emotional life is – alongside work – one of the great challenges of existence and is a theme that I keep returning to.
I’m not an academic philosopher, and don’t agree with the way the universities approach the subject. I’m a philosopher only in the very loose sense of someone interested in wisdom and well-being attained through reason. But I’m as interested in psychoanalysis and art as I am in philosophy.
Parents don’t reveal how often they have bitten their tongue, fought back the tears, or been too tired to take off their clothes after a day of childcare. The parent loves, but they do not expect the favour to be returned in any significant way.
Parent and child may both love, but – unbeknown to the child – each party is on a different end of the axis. This is why, in adulthood, when we first long for ‘love’, what we mean is that we want to ‘be loved’ as we were once loved by a parent.
Parents become very good at not hearing the explicit words and listening instead to what the child means but doesn’t yet know how to say: ‘I’m lonely, in pain, frightened’ – distress which then unfairly comes out as an attack on the safest, kindest, most reliable thing in the child’s world: the parent.
The romantic person instinctively sees marriage in terms of emotions, but what a couple actually gets up to together over a lifetime has much more in common with the workings of a small business. They must draw up work rosters, clean, chauffeur, cook, fix, throw away, mind, hire, fire, reconcile, and budget.
The idea of a book that can make a change to your life, that can affect your perspective, is a beautiful and great ambition: one that Seneca, Nietzsche and Tolstoy would have sympathised with.
I fell in love with Norman Mailer’s ‘Of a Fire on the Moon’, a description of the 1969 moon landing and the society that had produced NASA – and was inspired by him to begin a kind of anthropology of modern life.
I’ve tried to write about Heathrow before and been escorted off the premises.
The problem with airports is that we go there when we need to catch a plane – and because it’s so difficult to find the way to the gate, we tend not to look around at our surroundings.
Trying to be a sort of intellectual in the public arena is very irritating to people. They think, ‘Why is this bugger on television?’
It’s great to get an ‘F’, but you also want to give the sense that there’s something outside achievement. I’ve seen a lot of so-called high-achievers who don’t feel they’ve achieved much.
I guess my overall life plan is to think about issues that concern me and try to use culture generally to make sense of them. I’m more worried that I’m going to die before I’ve had time.
What annoys me about most self-help books is that they have no tragic sense. They have no sense that life is fundamentally incomplete rather than accidentally incomplete.
The humanities have been forced to disguise, both from themselves and their students, why their subjects really matter, for the sake of attracting money and prestige in a world obsessed by the achievements of science.
We are properly ready for marriage when we are strong enough to embrace a life of frustration.
To a shameful extent, the charm of marriage boils down to how unpleasant it is to be alone.
What we typically call love is only the start of love. Our understanding of love has been hijacked and beguiled by its first distractingly moving moments.
Small issues are really just large ones that haven’t been accorded the requisite attention.
Travel is a lot like love.
I do think that travel can be part of a journey of inner maturation, but you’ve got to do it right.
Fantasies can be great, but we shouldn’t make the wedding a fantasy, because the wedding is the gateway to married life. It shouldn’t be a moment of illusion; it should be a moment of preparation.
We tend to think of philosophies as produced by professional philosophers. Traditionally, this has meant people who have written dissertations on obscure subjects or who spend most of their day in libraries. But every human is, in an important sense, a carrier of an implicit philosophy – evident in their choices, pronouncements and commitments.
Katie Price is no exception. She, too, is – in a distinctive way – a philosopher. Partially, Katie Price’s philosophy is one of extraordinary confidence. She is remarkable not for her looks or antics but because of her tremendous self-assurance and her unwillingness to be intimidated by criticism or failure.
At ‘The School of Life’, we take seriously anything that has to do with human fulfilment – and take note wherever insight on this subject can be found.
The modern world thinks of art as very important: something close to the meaning of life.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, the public’s relationship to art has been weakened by a profound institutional reluctance to address the question of what art is for. This is a question that has, quite unfairly, come to feel impatient, illegitimate, and a little impudent.
I believe that art is a tool and that, like all tools, it has functions. I also think it is important to know what the tool is for so that we can better know how and when to use it.
In ‘Art as Therapy’, we argue that art is a tool that can variously help to inspire, console, redeem, guide, comfort, expand and reawaken us.
The idea that one might use art for ‘instrumental’ reasons tends to set off alarm bells at the heart of the cultural elite, who contend that it’s not a pill, that it shouldn’t be asked to perform some specific function, especially something as egocentric as to ‘cheer you up’ or to ‘make you a more empathetic person.’
If buying art is to matter to us deeply, then it has to engage with our emotions and bring something to what one might as well, and with no supernatural associations whatsoever, call our souls.
Artworks are especially good at helping our psyches in a variety of ways: they rebalance our moods, lend us hope, usher in calm, stretch our sympathies, reignite our senses, and reawaken appreciation.
Religions have always been clearly on to this psycho-therapeutic score. For hundreds of years in the West, Christian art had a very clear function: it was meant to direct us towards the good and wean us off vice.
Secular thinkers have a separation between thinking and doing. They don’t have a grasp of the balance sheet. The doers are selling us potted plants and pizzas while the thinkers are a little bit unworldly. Religions both think and do.
My dad was a slightly stricter version of Richard Dawkins. The worldview was that there are idiots out there who believe in Santa Claus and fairies and magic and elves, and we’re not joining that nonsense.
I’m fascinated by Comte’s clear-eyed analysis of what was wrong with modern society, which is that you’ve got industrial capitalism on one side and romantic love on the other. Those, along with non-instrumental art, are supposed to get you through the day?
Politicians want people to be nice neighbours, but the tools at their disposal are just the tools of modern liberal society, which are nothing.
Where is instruction in relationships, in the management of career, in the raising of children, in the pursuit of friendship, in the wise approach to anxiety and death? All this sort of stuff I craved to learn about when I was a student and down to this day.
The essential argument in the book, ‘Art as Therapy,’ is that art enjoys such financial and cultural prestige that it’s easy to forget the confusion that persists about what it’s really for.
We have to put aside the customary historical reading of works of art in order to invite art to respond to certain quite specific pains and dilemmas of our psyches.
Many people in the intellectual elite are very scared of shouting. They insist on very quiet murmurs.