Consolations of Philosophy by Alain De Botton

The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton

Welcome to the latest installment of “Sarah tries to make sense of this awful and chaotic existence” … Just kidding. (Mostly.)

I often use terms like “I’m having an existential crisis!” or ask questions like “Why do we even exist?” and, as a secular person, I mostly have non-answers and responses to these situations. Last month, it occurred to me that some of the big-name philosophers like Socrates or Epicurus may have already tried to talk about these points, and that I should probably read up on them. I was in New York and my philosophy major friend took me to a philosophy book store and, in the bargain section, I came across none other than this book, which boasts a quote from Newsweek on it’s cover that reads: “A fine introduction the world of philosophy.” We had spent the weekend discussing de Botton’s other book, On Love, and I’ve almost purchased The Architecture of Happiness by him about 7 times. It seemed serendipitous that he had written a book breaking down exactly what I was interested in and that suddenly, here it was in front of me, on the top of a dusty pile for $6.

After reading this book, I can tell you that it was not serendipitous, and that nothing means anything, and that existence is really just a jumble of chaos. That being said, this also gives us the power to give life our own meanings and assign values to whatever we deem most important, which is pretty liberating. As the title suggests, each chapter focuses on a different ailment or problem of common life, and what consolations and responses a famous philosopher would have had. The breakdown was as following:

Consolation for unpopularity — Socrates

Consolation for not having enough money — Epicurus

Consolation for frustration — Seneca

Consolation for inadequacy — Montaigne

Consolation for a broken heart — Schopenhauer

Consolation for difficulties — Nietzsche 

I could go on and on for a long time about what each one had to say and why I agreed or disagreed with certain parts and why. However, given that no one reads this except probably me and my mom when I force her, I will not. I will say that I probably related the least to Epicurus (he’s all about pleasure; the only good things are the things that make us alone truly happy and joyous) and related the most to a combination of Schopenhauer (pessimist/fatalist to the max) and Nietzsche (there’s a lot of bad things in this world but we can channel them into productive and creative work and the best existence is one lived authentically.) I also enjoyed Montaigne, who spent a lot of time trying to humanize the elite and point out that they, too, fart and poop and burp and cry. 

Below are some quotes that I underlined. Also, I think everyone should read this book. That is all.

We must reconcile ourselves to the necessary imperfectibility of existence: Is it surprising that the wicked should do wicked deeds, or unprecedented that your enemy should harm or your friend annoy you, that your son should fall into error or your servant misbehave? We will cease to be so angry once we cease to be so hopeful.

— Seneca Chapter

What should worry us is not the number of people who oppose us, but how good their reasons are for doing so.

— Socrates Chapter

When measured by the natural purpose of life, poverty is great wealth; limitless wealth, great poverty. 

— Epicurus Chapter

Our life consists partly in madness, partly in wisdom: whoever writes about it merely respectfully and by rule leaves more than half of it behind.

— Montaigne Chapter

We do have one advantage over moles. We may have to fight for survival and hunt for partners and have children as they do, but we can in addition go the theatre, the opera and the concert hall, and in bed in the evenings, we can read novels, philosophy and epic poems…We may be obliged to continue burrowing underground, but through creative works, we can at least acquire moments of insight into our woes, which spare us feelings of alarm and isolation (even persecution) at being afflicted by them.

— Schopenhauer Chapter

Only thoughts which come from walking have any value.

— Nietzsche Chapter