British writer and philosopher Alain De Botton not only has a brilliantly soothing voice, he also has some very intelligent insights into the way us human beings think and behave. To kickstart the analytical side of your brain, and perhaps provide some wisdom for navigating the idiosyncrasies of those around you, here are some of our favourite ideas and quotes from Alain on society as a whole.


“The search for status and success is a normal and natural thing, but we should perhaps take care to ensure that we’re not sucking in an idea of success uncritically from the world around us. Rather that our goals of success are ones that we genuinely agree with, because it’s very possible to suck in ideas of what it means to have a good life from the environment around us (the media and suchlike.) We should really view these simply as suggestions, because most of them are in fact incredibly unlikely and remote from what we actually need and aspire to.”

“The idea of something larger than man has a role in restoring perspective. We are one of the first societies to only worship other human beings, only other human achievements. The centre of our culture is ‘the cult of the human’ – such as the lauding of technological progress and human intelligence. In previous societies, almost any that have ever existed have always had right at their centre a worship of something non-human. The fact that we don’t have this I think plays a role in creating status anxiety.”

[Quotes gathered from Alain’s interview on ‘Big Ideas’ podcast.]



“The task of art is to go into the dark spaces and pull stuff out, and be able to say to someone what life is actually like, away from the sentimentality of Hollywood. This is what books can do for us.”

“A good base understanding of a relationship should be, ‘We’re two people who are radically imperfect, but we love each other and we’re going to make a go of it.'”

“Loving is a discipline. Let’s try to look behind the rather awkward and frightening behaviour, to try and find the humanity within someone. Loving is different to being loved. Being loved is always nice and you get to kick back, but loving somebody is an effort to interpret and understand someone with immense generosity and forgiveness, rather than with punitive blame.”

“To make the effort to see the world through another’s eyes can be arduous, but it’s ultimately a really dignifying task. Compatibility is an achievement of love, it shouldn’t be the pre-condition of love.”

“Ambition is good, but we can also be tortured by ambition. There can come a moment when we just need to step back and think, ‘Maybe I’m ok? Maybe it’s ok as it is? Maybe I don’t need to keep proving myself?’ Make this an emotional truth for yourself – it’s very liberating to realise you don’t need to keep striving to impress people you don’t really even like…”

[Quotes gathered from Alain’s interview on ‘The Nitty Gritty Committee’ podcast.]



“Meaning is generated when you feel that something very core to your own talent, values, and way of looking at the world is being used to solve somebody else’s problem. And when you manage to draw out that deep, talented self and match it to a problem out in the world you have a perfect fit. It’s incredibly hard to do that – to know yourself well enough in the first place to know really what your core values are, and then to have the luck and opportunity to apply it. All of us go in and out of periods of greater or lesser meaning; but are more or less always trying.”

[Quote gathered from Alain’s interview on ‘Monocle 24: Meet the writers’ podcast.]




Illustration: Sarah Maycock for kinfolk

Image 1: Franz Falckenhaus

Image 2: Victoria Birkinshaw for Nuvo