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Alain de Botton is a writer, philosopher and the founder of The School of Life

1. What is the most liberating thought you’ve ever had?

That, against the backdrop of one’s own death, nothing matters really.

2. What did it liberate you from?

Terrible anxiety around failure and social shame.

3. What does it mean to live a good life?

To find one’s calling and put it to work.

4. What illusion have you suffered from the most?

That other people care.

5. If you could go back and whisper in the ear of your 16-year-old self, what is the one thing you would tell them?

Discard the fear of seeming normal, and just do the things you know you want to do; you might even be good at them.

6. What does love feel like? (Real love, not hormonal love or I-like-the-idea-of-you-so-I’m-on-a-high love). 

Real love is awe and delight at meeting with goodness and beauty in another person – and discovering they like you too. It brings a huge increase in confidence and security in the world. It’s terrifyingly rare and brief.

7. What does your daily routine look like?

A constant search to write and make The School of Life work as well as it can.

8. What’s your favorite thing to look at?

My children.

9. Describe your perfect weekend. 

No one to see, nothing to do except hang out with the family at home and reading interesting things.


10. What do you worry about the most?

Dying before my children are a bit older.

11. Why?

It really messes you up to lose a parent young.

12. What makes you cry?

Really sweet and tender things.

13. What do you doodle on the sides of your papers?

Squares and cones.

14. What is the most serendipitous thing that has ever happened to you?

John Updike reviewing my book How Proust Can Change your Life.

15. How did your biggest struggles become the pathways to your greatest success?

Every setback forces me to think of ways around; and the ways-around can end being pretty good.

16. What’s the first thing you do in the morning?

Download my brain onto paper.

17. What do you wish you had more of in your life?


18. What do you find to be the most genuinely beautiful thing in the world?


19. If you could be free of one thought or fear, what would it be?

The fear of the judgement of others.

20. If you had the chance to tell every single person in the world just one thing, what would it be?

Be kind.

Image: Vincent Mentzel/Rijksmuseum.

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