There are few areas of contemporary life that philosopher and School of Life founder Alain de Botton hasn't insightfully and intelligently probed. Covering such universal subjects as love, work, religion and architecture in his many illuminating books, De Botton applies the world views of great thinkers from Schopenhauer to Proust to our confused, media-saturated times. His latest book Art as Therapy, co-authored with fellow philosopher and art historian John Armstrong, investigates art's ability to “make our lives better”, taking 150 artworks throughout history as examples.
To mark the release of Art as Therapy, and in celebration of his avowed love of the great French author of In Search of Lost Time, De Botton answers Jefferson Hack's personal version of the famous Proust Questionnaire, revealing the influence of John Ruskin and his love of long-distance travel.
What are you thinking of right now?
Wondering if there's a future in short films about philosophy for YouTube.
What makes you laugh?
Larry David and Jackie Mason in particular.
What makes you cry?
The suffering of children. Moments in films when the bad guy sees the error of his ways and turns nice.
What do you consider to be the greatest invention?
The law – a way of keeping our innate aggression at bay.
Do you have a mentor or inspirational figure that has guided or influenced you?
I take inspiration from a lot of entrepreneurial types. And I'm deeply inspired by the 19th century thinker and activist John Ruskin.
Where do you feel most at home?
In a plane on a long-distance flight, with a big view.
Where are you right now?
In my office in Swiss Cottage, London.
"My work is what I'd do even if it wasn't work. That's why I have problems with holidays"
What is your proudest achievement in work?
Having created www.theschooloflife.com – turning ideas into an institution.
What is your proudest achievement in life?
My children, on a good day.
What do you most dislike about contemporary culture?
How hard it is to concentrate on what matters. Too much static.
What do you most like about the age we live in?
Its constant creativity, its prodigious wealth, its opportunities for achievement.
At what points do life and work intersect?
My work is what I'd do even if it wasn't work. That's why I have problems with holidays.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
That health matters above all other things.
What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
Recommend a book or poem that has changed your perspective on life?
Norman Mailer's Of A Fire on the Moon taught me what long-form journalism could be.
What is your earliest childhood memory?
Tasting honey on holiday in greece.
What’s the most important relationship in your life?
The one with my children.
What’s the most romantic action you’ve taken?
Flying across the world to see a lover.
What’s the most spiritual action you’ve taken?
The word makes me allergic, apologies.
If you could wish for one change in the world what would it be?
That we'd take all the theoretical knowledge we have about how societies should be run and apply it in the real world.
Book tickets to see Alain de Botton's next talk at the School of Life here.