11 November 2015
Alain de Botton

'I want to learn more about myself, the world and how to stay (more or less) sane' – author Alain de Botton

Why do you write?

It all began for therapeutic reasons. 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. I believe it's my mind's attempt to regain calm and composure because of an otherwise possibly very uncomfortable level of anxiety.

The beauty of all this self-examination is that – fortunately – it tells me a lot about other people. If you're extremely honest about what you feel, you're likely to have a good insight into how others are experiencing things too.

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.'

What do you write about?

Broadly, I'm interested in contentment, fulfilment and emotional health. So I'm always on the look-out for areas that undermine a good life and dynamics that can restore us to a modicum of wisdom and well-being. I've thought a lot about the arts and culture, because I've found that for me, these were my greatest tonics: they've offered me insights and consolation at key moments. I've never read novels or looked at films or gone to museums for fun or to pass an exam. My motives are always earnestly about self-improvement. I want to learn more about myself, the world and how to stay (more or less) sane.

Are you a philosopher? What is a philosopher anyway?

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.

You've written a lot about love. How come?

Simply because the subject is so tricky. Emotional life is – alongside work – one of the great challenges of existence, and is a theme that I keep returning to. My first novel, Essays In Love, was all about relationships – and my newest book, also a novel (The Course Of Love), returns to the subject. I'm coming to think that the Romantic ideology we grow up with (that we'll find one person who will solve everything for us) is one of the greatest impediments to true love – and also, that we need to learn to love in a rather formal and intellectual way instead of simply going along with an emotion.

Do you do other things work-wise besides writing?

Yes, I'm very busy helping to run something called The School Of Life, an institution I started in 2008, which now has branches around the world and is dedicated to fostering emotional health through the use of culture. You can learn more about The School Of Life at theschooloflife.com and more about me at alaindebotton.com

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