Alain de Botton

Alain de Botton is a philosopher, writer and television presenter. His books include Essays in Love (published when he was only 23), How Proust Can Change Your Life (1997), Status Anxiety (2004) and Religion for Atheists (2012)

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A good idea from ... Marvell

THERE CAN BE few intellectual challenges as great as that of persuading someone to make love. The seduction of a human being from a clothed to an unclothed state, from indifference to passion, is - unless one is singularly blessed - a complex process. With just a few well-chosen opinions or actions, we know that we may suddenly gain the attentions of the beloved, or, with the wrong ones, alienate them forever. It is, of course, never clear what the right course should be.

A good idea from ... Aristotle

WE ARE entertained by the strangest things. Some people like a good night out watching a man unwittingly kill his father and marry his mother, a jealous lover murdering his beloved and a group of Danish nobility dying in a sword fight. But the question is always whether it's a good production of Hamlet or Oedipus. No one asks why witnessing incest and murder, punctuated by a gin and tonic, should constitute an evening well- spent.

Alain de Botton column

A good idea from... Baudelaire

A good idea from ... James Joyce

WHEN WE ask someone what they are thinking about, unless they reply with the standard (and, for the paranoid, devastating) "nothing", they will usually sum up the contents of their minds in one or two succinct sentences: "Just thinking about the garden," or "What we should do about John." Novelists have traditionally followed suit, offering us intelligible reports of the inner lives of their characters. In Middlemarch, George Eliot explains that Dorothea, the first time she meets her dusty future husband "said to herself that Casaubon was the most interesting man she had ever seen". Jane Austen tells us of Emma: "She was quite convinced of Mr Elton's being in the fairest way of falling in love, if not in love already."

Alain de Botton Column: A good idea from... Pascal

IT IS STILL, tragically, sometimes assumed that the best way to cheer someone up is to tell them that everything will turn out all right; to intimate that life is essentially a pleasant process in which happiness is no mirage and human fulfilment a real possibility.

A good idea from ... Vermeer

IT'S EASY TO feel a little depressed after reading the lifestyle sections of newspapers and magazines. Despite their finest intentions, they often leave us with a vague sense that our own lives are rather lacking in glamour and interest. They feature houses infinitely more stylish than our own, they interview people who are far wealthier than we are and who seem constantly to fall in love in thrilling ways and with thrilling people, or have a sensational time making films, or look grave and important jumping out of ministerial jets. The contrast with more ordinary lives can be painful.

A good idea from ... the Stoics

THERE would be few great human achievements if people didn't refuse to be disappointed. The motor of our ingenuity is the question, "Does it have to be like this, could it not be different?" - from which arise political reforms, punctual trains, scientific leaps, better relationships. But sadly, the very side of us which tries to improve things is also responsible for our useless fury in cases where altering reality is not an option.

Column: A good idea from ... Freud

THE OTHER night, at a party, I bumped into a beautiful woman called Rachel who was in the kitchen looking for a drink. She was about 29, had shoulder-length brown hair, pale skin and watery blue eyes - and it soon became obvious that she was very much in love with me. I noticed this early on in the conversation. There was something in the way she said "cranberry juice" when I asked her what she wanted to drink which proved the strength of her desire. And when she abruptly ended our short chat, saying, "I've got to go and join my boyfriend in the next room, bye," and walked out quickly (or ran out), there was no longer any doubt about the depth of her love for me.

A good idea from... Hobbes

IT SEEMS absurd to obey the government. Given how much money is coming in to government coffers, it surely wouldn't make that much difference to the state if I stopped paying tax for a while, whereas it would make an enormous difference to me and to the kind of restaurants I could afford. And seeing what a good driver I am, and how pressing many of my engagements are, why shouldn't I be able to drive really fast down the motorway, police intransigence aside?

A good idea from ... Stendhal

UNHAPPY love affairs force even the most unreflective people to start thinking. It seems impossible not to write at least a few lines of poetry or a diary after one's heart has been broken. The French novelist Stendhal (1783-1842) observed that he would never have taken up his pen if, at 18, he had known happy love. Fortunately for us, Stendhal was unhappy in love throughout his life, and his most painful passion - for a beautiful, enigmatic Italian woman, Metilde Dembowski - drove him to produce his greatest book, De l'Amour, a mixture of anecdote, analysis and aphorisms, published in 1822.
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