Pages from the Book of Life

Have you read anything of the Book of Life yet? You should, it’s the nearest we humans get to a user guide. Here’s a little of what was in the newsletter this week.

How to be comfortable on your own in public
Eating alone in public can be one of the great hurdles of psychological life. It can be an exceptional trial because it forces us to wrestle with a set of thoughts that, for most of our lives, we successfully push to the back of consciousness: that we are in essence an unacceptable being, tainted from birth, an object of quiet ridicule or open mockery.

How to stop worrying whether or not they like you
One of the most acute questions we ask ourselves in relation to new friends and acquaintances is whether or not they like us. The question feels so significant because, depending on how we answer it in our minds, we will either take steps to deepen the friendship or, as is often the case, immediately make moves to withdraw from it so as to spare ourselves humiliation and embarrassment.

What to do at parties if you hate small talk
A lot of discomfort about going to social engagements is rooted in what can sound like a rather high-minded concern: a hatred of small talk. We can develop a dread of parties because we know how likely we are to end up wedged into conversations about the weather, parking, traffic or the way we plan to spend the forthcoming holidays – when there would be so many deeper and more dignified topics to address.

It’s from the School of Life, an organisation dedicated to developing emotional intelligence by applying psychology, philosophy, and culture to everyday life.

It was founded by the philosopher Alain de Botton. I’ve been a fan of his for a while now, after having read books like The Consolations of Philosophy (which became Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness), How Proust Can Change Your Life (which he discusses here), and Status Anxiety (which was made into a documentary).

I’ve finally got round to reading his Art as Therapy book, after having linked to that before on here, some years back.

Alain de Botton on Art as Therapy

Not to be confused with art therapy, of course. Here’s a piece about that, if you’re interested.

Art therapy gives patients a voice when there are no words
Always in any kind of therapy I think we are looking for a an act of communication, the smallest act of connection. There is a wonderful book by Martina Thomson, an art therapist, called On Art and Therapy: An Exploration and she talks about art therapy being like ‘feeding birds’ you want to be very quiet and allow the client to feel able to come towards you in some way. It is a delicate thing. You are not firing questions and needing answers. You are being together. Therapy is often seen as something for psychologically-minded people, or those of a certain class. For those with complex trauma for example, there might not be words to express the depth of what they have been through. Art can give them a voice.

Alain de Botton on art as therapy

Alain de Botton on Art as Therapy
“Founder of The School of Life Alain de Botton believes art can help us with our most intimate and ordinary dilemmas: Why is my work not more satisfying? Why do other people seem to have a more glamorous life? How can I improve my relationships? Why is politics so depressing? In this secular sunday sermon he introduces a new method of interpreting art: art as a form of therapy, providing powerful solutions to many of life’s dilemmas.”

Here’s another take on this project, from The Spectator. A little sniffy, perhaps, but I guess Ben’s writing for his audience there in the way that Alain is here.

This year, NO new year's resolutions, ok?

It’s soon that time of year again, explains Oliver Burkeman, “that segment of the calendar known to publishers and motivational speakers worldwide as New Year, New You.” Anyone thinking of new resolutions, or just repeating last year’s failed ones, should read this article on why this approach really isn’t the best way of going about things.

[Self-help books that encourage these Big Change/Fresh Start ideas] don’t keep on selling despite the fact that they don’t work, but rather because they don’t work: they deliver a short-lived mood boost, and when that fades, the most obvious way to revive it is to go back for more.

He offers us another way, a smaller, more incremental way of bringing about change, one that encourages us to ease up on ourselves a little.

In fact, as the Buddhist-influenced Japanese psychologist Shoma Morita liked to point out, it’s perfectly possible to do what you know needs doing—to propel yourself to the gym, to open the laptop to work, to reach for the kale instead of the doughnuts—without “feeling motivated” to do it. People “think that they should always like what they do and that their lives should be trouble-free,” Morita wrote. “Consequently, their mental energy is wasted by their impossible attempts to avoid feelings of displeasure or boredom.” Morita advised his readers and patients to “give up” on themselves—to “begin taking action now, while being neurotic or imperfect or a procrastinator or unhealthy or lazy or any other label by which you inaccurately describe yourself.”

Worth a try. tempted to look through this blog’s posts from Decembers and Januarys gone by, to see how badly I’ve done with all this previously.

Oliver Burkeman wrote The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking. A great title, at least.