Alain de Botton, a balding young Englishman, thoroughly educated and
cosmopolitan, is your host and he takes you on a kind of journey
through selected corners of European philosophy in an attempt to find
nuggets of wisdom that will help you overcome your hang ups. There are
1. Socrates on Self Confidence.
2. Epicurus on Happiness.
3. Seneca on Anger.
4. Montaigne on Self Esteem.
5. Schopenhauer on Love.
6. Nietzsche on Hardship.
De Botton takes us on a tour of places where these light thinkers lived
and shows us around, but it's not a survey course in the history of
philosophy. De Botton is interested in finding out if these people had
anything to say to us, miserable wretches that we are. Never mind
metaphysics -- what do I do NOW, Ma?
Does it work? Is there anything still useful in their output? Maybe. I
suppose it depends on the individual and, of course, to some extent on
what the philosophers actually had to say about issues of current
concern. Some certainly work better than others. I'll give an example
of one that seems to work and one that doesn't.
One that may sometimes work: Nietzsche's message to today's viewers can
be summarized in the phrase, "Whatever does not kill me makes me
stronger." In other words, how to overcome hardship? Get used to it.
Well, it evidently worked for G. Gordon Liddy, who was fond of using
the quote, but psychologists have come up with mixed results. (Full
disclosure: I am a psychologist.) A difficult and humiliating
initiation rite leads to greater solidarity in the group, which is
generally good, although it depends on the group's goal. That's why,
"Once a Marine, always a Marine." Nobody ever says, "Once a Coast
Guardsman, always a Coast Guardsman." On the other hand, combat may not
kill you but it may induce post-traumatic stress disorder, which is
very real, take my word for it. The treatment, stress, can be worse
than the disease of weakness.
Okay, one that did work, for me at least -- Seneca on anger. Why do we
get angry? Because we expect too much, that's why. Lower your
expectations and you won't be disappointed and therefore you won't be
angry. The scientific literature generally supports this, although
people with low expectations usually have all sorts of associated
problems that extend way beyond just getting angry. I tried it myself,
with the stock market. Each morning before logging into my account, I
make an estimate of how much I've lost or how little I've gained. I
always try to be very conservative. And actually it appears to have
helped, at least in this limited area. Anger was never a problem but I
find I'm less often disappointed and more often cheered when I check my
balances. I'm tempted to see just how far this governance of attitude
can be taken. Maybe I should just assume that the very act of my
purchasing a stock is the kiss of death. Then, no matter how much I
lose, as long as the company doesn't go bankrupt, my expectations are
more than met. How about if I assume that when I wake up tomorrow I'll
find that I died during the night? How can you lose?
My advice is to check this out. Nothing much is going to help you if
you have a clinical-level illness, but if you're subject to everyday
hassles and find them more annoying than they should be, a constant
irritation, why not try it? These guys should know. Socrates had an
abundance of self esteem. He lectured his executioners from his death
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