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Alain De Botton On Happiness

Maybe because we’ve grown accustomed to our poverty, become acquainted with our loneliness, and developed such an intimate relationship with our sadness we are unable to accept the possibility, and actuality, of being happy. A small part of ourselves may struggle believing its deserved, strangely fearing the life we deeply crave. We are so quick to place barriers between us and the chaos that comes from loving. Quick to deny our own lovability. After years of praying for another soul to walk beside us their presence produces a paralyses that eventually, if left unhealed, prevents our own happiness. Alain De Botton On Happiness teaches us to embrace being present and content.

Deep in the mountains of Spain, we find two lovers growing sick from their inability to embrace the state of being happy. The idyllic beauty of Aras De Alpuente along with the presence of a wonderful partner is to much for the young woman to accept and winds up in the hospital suffering from a terrible headache. One wonders how often we’ve grown sick from an inability to remain present. In a chapter titled The Fear of Happiness, contained in Alain De Botton’s wonderful book On Love, we watch these young lovers fight with the beauty of their relationship saying:

One of love’s greatest drawbacks is that, for a while at least, it is in danger of making us seriously happy.

Alain De Botton On Happiness
Alain De Botton On Happiness

A wise person once said, “You cannot be a good friend to others if you cant be one to yourself.” One wonders why the world is so lonely, for the millions of people in this world yearning for another soul. To embrace, and kiss, and hold. Yet isolating themselves due to their inability to merely “be”.

I do not believe we were placed onto the world to nourish our loneliness. However, being unable to remain present, but yearning only aids our despair. We want to judge this character for being trapped by his inhibition, hesitations, and neglectfulness. However, he is merely a mirror to our own inadequacies. The future we create is dependent on the life we live presently. Forever fallible, always shifting and seen through rose colored glasses an idealized future can prevent our ultimate “becoming”. Our life is dependent on our ability to become responsible. Embracing our friends, our siblings, and even the unpredictable and terrifying future. We deserve happiness, and Alain goes into our fear of living fully in the present saying:

Why did we live this way? Perhaps because to enjoy ourselves in the present would have meant engaging ourselves in an imperfect or dangerously ephemeral reality. Rather than hiding behind a comfortable belief in an afterlife. Living in the future perfect tense involved holding up an ideal life to contrast with the present. One that would save us from the need to commit ourselves to our situation. It was a pattern akin to that found in certain religions. In which life on earth is only a prelude to an ever-lasting and far more pleasant heavenly existence. Our attitude towards holidays, parties, work, and perhaps love had something immortal to it. As though we would be on the earth for long enough not to have to stoop so low as to think these occasions finite in number.

Alain De Botton On Happiness
Alain De Botton On Happiness

Our idealization of the future presents us from living within the fallible present creating an eternal existential anxiety. The future is safe, but the present contains all our demons. Alain teaches us that one must not live their life in the future saying:

The future has some of the satisfactions and safety of the past. I recalled that as a child every holiday grew perfect only when I was home again. For then the anxiety of the present would make way for stable memories. I spent whole childhood years looking forward to the winter holidays.

But when I was finally on top of a slope, looking at pine-covered valleys below me and a fragile blue sky above, I felt a pervasive, existential anxiety that would then evaporate from the memory of the event, a memory that would be exclusively composed of the objective conditions (the top of a mountain, a fragile blue sky) and would hence be free of everything that had made the actual moment trying.

The present was unpleasant not because I might have had a runny nose, or been thirsty, or forgotten a scarf. But because of my reluctance to accept that I was finally going to live out a possibility that had all year resided in the comforting folds of the future. Yet as soon as I had reached the bottom of the slope. I would look back up the mountain and declare that it had been a perfect run. And so the skiing holiday (and much of my life generally) proceeded. Anticipation in the morning, anxiety in the actuality, and pleasant memories in the evening.

Alain De Botton On Happiness
Alain De Botton On Happiness

We long for a love in which we are never reduced or misunderstood. We have a morbid resistance to classification by others, to others placing labels on us (the man, the woman, the rich one, the poor one, the Jew, the Catholic, etc.). To ourselves, we are after all always un-labelable. When alone, we are always simply ‘me’, and shift between sides of ourselves effortlessly and without the constraints imposed by the preconceptions of others. Some people have the power to liven our sacral chakra, and encourage a level of authenticity only matched by lovers of 66 years; others spark a desire to create a imagined self–a self manipulated to gain the desire of the lover.

When that love is discovered, it must be cherished, nurtured, and allowed to blossom within our authentic selves. Love comes under the philosophical microscope. An entire chapter is devoted to the nuances and subtexts of an initial date. Another chapter mulls over the question of how and when to say ‘I love you’. There’s an essay on how uncomfortable it can be to disagree with a lover’s taste in shoes and a lengthy discussion about the role of guilt in love. The entire book challenges us to place all our eggs in one basket, which is the present, and place all our faith on the life happening around us. Alain closes with this statement about our anxiety with love:

The anxiety of loving Chloe was in part the anxiety of being in a position where the cause of my happiness might so easily vanish, where she might suddenly lose interest, die, or marry another.

At the height of love, there appeared a temptation to end the relationship prematurely, so that either Chloe or I could play at being the executioner, rather than see the other partner, or habit, or familiarity end things. Lovers may kill their own love story only because they are unable to tolerate the uncertainty, the sheer risk, that their experiment in happiness has delivered. Continue reading Alain De Botton On Mature Love.

Alain De Botton On Happiness

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