In The Consolations of Philosophy, Alain de Botton helps us put life’s difficulties into perspective. De Botton guides us through the works of a number of well-known philosophers (Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche) and distills lessons from their work.
From Socrates we learn to examine the statements of self-confident people. Oftentimes you find these statements can not stand up to even mild scrutiny. So, subject their convictions and also your own premises to criticism. Support your beliefs with good answers to counter arguments.
Epicurus tells us that epicurean is actually not, as opposed what we often associate it with today, equivalent to being an unbounded bon-vivant. Instead, Epicurus tells which components are more important than “stuff” for our well-being: friendship, freedom, reflection.
Seneca learns us to enjoy the beautiful things of life, but to always be prepared to loose these acquirements. And to not get freaked out when this happens.
Do not assume the world is conspiring against you. Annoying things happen to you while no one is aiming to hurt you. You are not being sabotaged.
(Even better, to speak with Kevin Kelly, the world is conspiring to your success: pronoia.)
Motaigne states that he who thinks he is wise, is in fact a fool.
The banal physical things can not be denied. Even the king has to shit and it stinks too.
Our culture is not the norm. Our habits and rituals are just as strange as those from a distant Indian tribe in the jungle of South America. Arrogance is misplaced.
Wisdom and scholarship are different things. Wisdom is rarely taught in schools. Not (just) philosophers are able to lead a virtuous life. Also a poorly-educated worker can live wisely and “produce” wisdom. (Grandmother’s wisdom).
Schopenhauer strikes me as a grumpy man. It is not our intelligence that steers our decisions, but the unconscious. Our intelligence is busy justifying our decisions through the construction of logical reasonings. Very much like Kahneman has found: fast decision making is done by our System 1 thinking, which is impulsive and subjective. Our System 2 is more thoughtful and slow, but tends not to correct System 1 decisions but rather justify those decisions.
Love between man and woman is only successful if our unconscious thinks that it may produce good offspring. Procreation is what drives all this, unconsciously. Consoling consequences: when your love is declined, this is only because nature predicts an unsuccessful reproduction, not so much because the other person dislikes you.
Nietzsche explains there is no joy without difficulties. Difficulties are necessary prerequisites for joy.
From the efforts of the craftsman follows the genius of the artist. Genius is not born but created. The route to follow learning your crafts: sublimate, spiritualize (internalize), elevate. Do not resign to things that are too difficult to achieve, but instead fight to achieve these. There is no other way.
See also Beauty and Consolation.