About the Author
The School of Life is devoted to developing emotional intelligence. It addresses issues such as how to find fulfilling work, how to master the art of relationships, how to understand one’s past, how to achieve calm and how better to understand and – where necessary – change the world. These ideas are delivered though a range of channels: from videos, books and products, to classes, events and one-to-one therapy sessions.
Headquartered in London, it operates around the globe with twelve international branches (Antwerp, Amsterdam, Berlin, Istanbul, Melbourne, Paris, São Paulo, Sydney, Seoul, Tel Aviv and Taipei). The School of Life is a rapidly growing global brand, with 3.7 million YouTube subscribers, 295,000 Facebook followers, 70,000 Instagram followers and 140,000 Twitter followers. The hugely successful School of Life Conference took place in San Francisco in March 2018, with 400 guests in attendance.
The School of Life Press brings together the writing of teachers, psychologists and philosophers under the creative direction of series editor, Alain de Botton. The aim of all the titles is to share a coherent message with one voice.
Alain de Botton was born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1969 and now lives in London. He is a writer of essayistic books that have been described as a ‘philosophy of everyday life.’ He’s written on love, travel, architecture and literature. His books have been bestsellers in 30 countries.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Sometimes we respond quite negatively to encounters with things that are much larger and more powerful than ourselves. It’s a feeling that can strike us when we are alone in a new city, trying to negotiate a vast railway terminal or the huge underground system at rush hour, and we sense that no-one knows anything about us or cares in the least for our confusions. The scale of the place forces upon us the unwelcome fact that we don’t matter very much in the greater scheme and that the things that are of great concern to us don’t figure much at all in the minds of others. It’s a potentially crushing, lonely experience that intensifies anxiety and agitation.
But there’s another way an encounter with the large scale can affect us – and calm us down.
Heading back to the airport after a series of frustrating meetings, the sunset behind the mountains is magnificent: tiers of clouds are bathed in gold and purple, huge slanting beams of light cut across the urban landscape. To record the feeling without implying anything mystical, it seems as if one’s attention is being drawn up into the radiant gap between the clouds and the hills, and that one is for a moment merging with the cosmos. Normally the sky isn’t a major focus of attention, but now it’s mesmerising. For a while it doesn’t seem to matter so much what happened in the meeting or the fact that the contract will – maddeningly – have to be renegotiated by the Paris team. It’s strangely calming and comforting to be absorbed in the contemplation of something vastly bigger than oneself.
Artist and philosophers have given this feeling a name: the Sublime. We experience this sensation of the Sublime whenever we are hugely impressed by something that seems much larger and more powerful than we are. It overwhelms us with its grandeur while also offering us a vivid sense of our own relative littleness. At this moment, nature seems to be sending us a humbling message: the incidents of our lives are not terribly important in the scheme of things. And yet, strangely, rather than being distressing, this sensation can be immensely comforting and calming.
The Sublime is calming because it counteracts a persistent and very normal source of distress in our lives. Our minds naturally focus on what is immediately before us. We instinctively get deeply engaged with whatever happens to be close to us in space and time. And we have a proportionally less intense, more detached relationship to things that feel very far off. It’s not a surprising arrangement. Very often, what’s immediately present is more relevant to our survival than what happened five years ago or might happen much later in our lives. Our minds are geared to fleeing a snake or staving off hunger. Translated into the terms of modern life, it means that last night’s squabble over flecks of toothpaste on the bathroom mirror and the work deadline of Tuesday morning feel hugely agitating – though in terms of the overall meaning of a relationship, career or of a whole life, they are in fact pretty minor incidents. The problem is, our minds are structured so as to give maximum attention to what is happening now – whereas, to actually see the importance of anything we have to situate it in a much larger frame of reference.