‘Life is short. Have an affair.’

‘Life is short. Have an affair.’ This is the carpe diem tagline of Ashley Madison, the world’s most famous website for arranging an extra-marital fling. ‘Thousands of cheating wives and cheating husbands sign up every day looking for an affair,’ the Canadian-based site boasts, claiming that it has over 40 million users in more than fifty countries, who it matches together for ‘discreet encounters’.

In July 2015, however, the company’s promise to guarantee absolute secrecy received the ultimate blow: its data was hacked and posted online. Suddenly anyone could check whether their spouse had signed up and search their personal profile for their wish-list of kinky turn-ons. The fallout has included a flood of divorces, alleged suicides, shaming of public figures and an epidemic of distrust, with suspicious partners starting to covertly check the emails and texts of their significant other for evidence of an Ashley Madison liaison.

Ashley Madison’s membership figures have been shown to be exaggerated, but there is clearly an enormous appetite for having a fling: nearly 60% of men and over 45% of women have an affair at some point during their marriage. Yet the set-up promoted by Ashley Madison and other similar companies is widely seen as immoral, irresponsible and indulgent. It’s hedonism taken to the extreme – pleasure for pleasure’s sake, regardless of the consequences – and contributes to the generally bad reputation of hedonism, whether it’s extra-marital sex, binge drinking, taking drugs or gluttonous overeating. In many people’s minds, hedonism is about sin, selfishness and deceit, anti-social excess, debauchery and addiction. The dominant image is that hedonism harms – sometimes ourselves, and often others.

In the nineteenth century, the historian Thomas Carlyle condemned the philosophical ideal of utilitarian hedonism – maximising pleasure as the chief purpose of life – as a ‘doctrine worthy only of swine’. The self-help industry today takes a similar position. Pick up a typical book on happiness or wellbeing and I can almost guarantee it will not suggest downing a couple of tequila slammers, devouring a large slice of chocolate cake, having an affair or smoking a joint under the stars. Instead you are likely to be offered a healthy diet of positive thinking exercises, advice on breathing techniques to hone your meditation skills, and top tips on time management to destress your life.

This kind of guidance reflects a growing puritanical streak in the modern happiness movement, which focuses on promoting moderation and self-control while leaving hedonism off the agenda. It is usually only discussed in pejorative remarks about what psychologists call the ‘hedonic treadmill’ – the idea that we get caught in cycles of seeking material pleasures, such as buying a fancy sports car or taking a luxury Caribbean cruise, which only give a temporary boost to our wellbeing and leave us hungry for more.

It is time to challenge this new puritanism and recognise that hedonism is a source of unexpected virtues. I’m not in favour of having secret affairs, buying a Lamborghini or becoming a strung-out coke addict. Rather, we need to appreciate that hedonism has long been central to human culture, personal expression and passionate living, and it is essential that we find a place for it in modern life.

How can we develop a more positive attitude towards hedonism? Easy: by getting immersed in one of the great carpe diem poems of the nineteenth century. To find out what it is, seize the moment and have a quick read of my new ‘click essay’, The Hidden Virtues of Hedonism, based on my book Carpe Diem Regained. I hope you enjoy the pleasures of it.

There’s a big problem that the advocates of mindfulness rarely talk about


I’ve been a fan of mindfulness for years, and have done a good deal of sitting in Buddhist meditation classes and also tried some of the new secular mindfulness courses too. As with many people, mindfulness has helped me when I’m stressed, been a source of spiritual solace, and acted as a ballast in my life. It’s offered me the gift of present moment awareness, rescuing me from the modern curse of digital distraction.

But when I began looking into it more deeply when researching my new book Carpe Diem Regained: The Vanishing Art of Seizing the Day, I started having creeping doubts about it. One of the most confronting moments was when I asked renowned Buddhist thinker Matthieu Ricard (best known, to his playful annoyance, as the happiest man in the world) what he thought about the modern secular versions of mindfulness, such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy. His response surprised me. This is what he said:

There are a lot of people speaking about mindfulness, but the risk is that it’s taken too literally – to just ‘be mindful’. Well, you could have a very mindful sniper and a mindful psychopath. It’s true! A sniper needs to be so focused, never distracted, very calm, always bringing back his attention to the present moment. And non-judgemental – just kill people and no judgement. That could happen!

Ricard was only half-joking, because he knows that secular mindfulness courses have become popular in military training and amongst Wall Street bankers, who hope it will keep them calm and give them the edge when the financial stakes are high. He then told me about a study at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig showing that taking a mindfulness course can help you deal with stress but has no discernible impact on pro-social behaviour.

It was shocking to hear, especially from a guy who has spent four decades doing mindfulness meditation in the foothills of the Himalayas. For Ricard, the Buddhist approach to mindfulness – unlike its secular counterpart – doesn’t have this problem of being ‘mindfulness without morals’, as it emphasises concepts such as compassion, caring, empathy and altruism.

So if you happen to be someone who has benefited from mindfulness, and made it part of your life, I think it’s worth challenging yourself and exploring some of its somewhat darker sides.

I do so in detail in my new book, dedicating a whole chapter to mindfulness as a form of ‘seizing the day’ and living in the moment – and subjecting it to scrutiny. To give you a taster, have a look at this free, shareable, ‘click essay’ extract from the book, which you can read in just 3 minutes: Beware the Mindful Sniper.

Seize the book!

Dear Friends

Well, after nearly four years of intellectual toil I have some big news: my new book Carpe Diem Regained: The Vanishing Art of Seizing the Day has just been published by the wonderful crowdfunding publisher Unbound (in the photo I’m signing copies at their London office, hot off the press).

The book is a ‘biography’ of the ancient philosophical ideal of carpe diem – seize the day – looking at what it really means, how it has been hijacked by forces such as consumerism and our culture of digital distraction, and how we can seize it back for the art of living and political change.

If you’re up for seizing the day, here’s how you can find out more and help spread the word:

  • Buy yourself a copy at your local bookshop or on Amazon (and write a review on Amazon if you can – it makes a big difference)
  • Come to one of the events I’m doing and say hello! First up is a secular Sunday Sermon at The School of Life in London on April 9, which promises to be great fun. There are more events here.
  • Visit and share the new website for the book, www.carpediem.click, which contains unique ‘click essay’ extracts from the book. Here’s a sample tweet/post to share on social media:

Carpe diem has been hijacked. It’s time to seize it back. New book by philosopher @romankrznaric CARPE DIEM REGAINED www.carpediem.click

Thanks so much for your support. I hope you enjoy the book and that it offers unexpected inspiration.

Best wishes, and carpamus diem – let’s seize the day together!
Roman

‘A profound, playful book for wannabe grown-ups who love life.’ Sir Tim Smit, founder of the Eden Project

‘Inspiring, bracing, and elegant: a timely corrective to contemporary follies, from mindfulness to workaholism.’ Sarah Bakewell, author of At the Existentialist Cafe

Can you seize the day in 20 seconds?

It’s short. It’s snappy. It’s the new trailer for my forthcoming book Carpe Diem Regained. Please take 20 seconds of your day to check it out (and if you can share it on social media I’d be hugely grateful).

If you have another 20 seconds up your sleeve and would like a more contemplative route to seizing the day, treat yourself to this pithy poem I recently came across by Emily Dickinson (whose naughty brother Austin makes a guest appearance in my book):

A Death blow is a Life blow to Some
Who till they died, did not alive become —
Who had they lived, had died but when
They died, Vitality begun.

This poem is usually interpreted as a spiritual statement about the richness of life after death. But I wonder if it isn’t just as much a carpe diem poem, saying that we cannot truly live until we face the reality of our mortality and have the taste of death upon our lips.

What do you think? What meanings does it evoke for you?

 

What is the Greatest Carpe Diem Poem of Them All? Try The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

rubaiyat-by-dulac

Hello to you all. I hope you managed to seize plenty of days over the summer. For my part, I’ve been seizing a new title for my forthcoming book. After much debate and soul-searching, it will now be called Carpe Diem Regained: The Vanishing Art of Seizing the Day, rather than the original title used for the crowdfunding campaign, Carpe Diem Reclaimed: The Story of a Cultural Hijack. Fingers crossed that you like the new title. I certainly do – more poetic in my view, and closer to the real message of the book.

Speaking of poetry, I’ve decided to add a sneaky little appendix that contains not only top films and songs on the theme of carpe diem, but a selection of the greatest poetry too. Just to give you a sneak preview, one of them is that almost-forgotten classic, The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam.

For those who don’t know it, the Rubáiyát is a long poem by the eccentric English scholar Edward FitzGerald, based on his loose translation of verses by the eleventh-century Persian poet and mathematician ʽUmar Khayyām.

The initial publication of the Rubáiyát in 1859 – the same year as Darwin’s On The Origin of Species – went completely unnoticed: it didn’t sell a single copy in its first two years. But by chance a remaindered copy of FitzGerald’s twenty-page booklet was picked up for a penny by the Celtic scholar Whitley Stokes, who passed it on to Dante Gabriel Rosetti, who subsequently fell in love with it and sang its praises to his Pre-Raphaelite circle. In 1863 John Ruskin declared, ‘I never did – till this day – read anything so glorious’, and from there began a cult of Omar Khayyam that lasted at least until World War One, by which time there were 447 editions of Fitzgerald’s translation in circulation.

The poem was memorised, quoted and worshipped by a whole generation. Omár Khayyam dining clubs sprang up, and you could even buy Omar tooth powder and playing cards. During the war, dead soldiers were found in the trenches with battered copies in their pockets.

What was the attraction of the Rubáiyát? The answer lies in some of its most famous verses:

 

Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,

Before we too into the Dust descend;

Dust into Dust, and under Dust to lie

Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, – and sans End!

 

Then to the lip of this poor earthen Urn

I lean’d, the Secret of my Life to learn:

And Lip to Lip it murmur’d – “While you live

Drink! – for, once dead, you never shall return.”

 

Oh, threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!

One thing at least is certain – This Life flies;

One thing is certain and the rest is Lies;

The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.

 

The carpe diem calling of the Rubáiyát was unmistakable. It’s no wonder that the writer G. K. Chesterton declared the poem to be the bible of the ‘carpe diem religion’.

The Rubáiyát may or may not do it for you. So I’m intrigued to know of your own favourite poem or poems that evoke the spirit of seizing the day. Please tell me about them in the comments section below – I’d love to hear from you.

I would also appreciate another favour. Many people think that once a book from the crowd-funding publisher Unbound reaches 100% (as mine has) then you can no longer pledge support to it. Wrong! It is still possible to make a pledge and get your name printed in the back. So please do sign up if you’d like a copy, and it would be great if you could share the link with a few family and friends, and encourage them to join the merry band of 450 supporters: https://unbound.com/books/carpe-diem-reclaimed

Thanks and best wishes

Roman

From the Cutting Room Floor: Zorba the Greek

After three years of blood, sweat and tears, the manuscript of my crowdfunded book Carpe Diem Reclaimed is now under the fine scalpel of my editors at Unbound. I remain sitting in my study, surrounded by the detritus that accompanies a near-finished book project: piles of notes, books read and unread, newspaper clippings, obscure scholarly articles, and multiple chapter drafts covered with corrections.

Amidst all the debris is the text that never made it into the final manuscript – aborted chapter openings, irrelevant paragraphs written in flights of fancy, and whole sections that couldn’t stand up to the critics. I like to keep everything from the cutting room floor as mementos of my peripatetic authorial wanderings. In case you are curious about what can be found there, here is one of the rejected paragraphs, about one of my great literary heroes, Zorba the Greek.

If there is one figure who represents the essence of an experiential approach to living, it is Alexis Zorba, the boisterous, larger-than-life character from Nikos Kazantzakis’s 1946 novel Zorba the Greek. Zorba is the ultimate carpe diem junkie. He exudes exuberance. He throws himself into life. He’s impulsive. He laughs and cries, he dances and plays the santuri (a kind of dulcimer) with passion and longing deep into the night. His sexual appetite is unquenchable, he revels in friendship, and immerses himself in hard work and helping others. On his deathbed he exclaims, ‘I have no regrets…I’ve done heaps and heaps of things in my life, but I still did not do enough. Men like me ought to live a thousand years. Good night!’ By contrast, the other main character in the novel, a young intellectual (who is the unnamed narrator), lives a kind of shadow existence. Timid and bookish, he seems almost afraid of living. Zorba attempts to inspire him – to teach him – to grasp life, to seize the day. ‘I’m free,’ he insists at the end of the novel. ‘No, you’re not free,’ replies Zorba. ‘The string you’re tied to is perhaps longer than other people’s. That’s all…You come and go and think you’re free, but you never cut the string in two….You have to risk everything! But you’ve got such a strong head, it’ll always get the better of you.’ The young man protests but, in the end, has to admit to himself that Zorba is right.

Those of you who know the fabulous 1964 film version with Anthony Quinn and Alan Bates, will remember that in the final moments, the repressed book-lover manages to let go of his inhibitions and says to Zorba, ‘teach me to dance’, and they dance the sirtaki together on the beach. Here’s the clip, for your delectation.

It’s still possible to pledge support to Carpe Diem Reclaimed – you can sign up here for a lovely hardback edition with your name printed in the back, or other goodies such as attending an exclusive two-hour workshop, or even get yourself some (temporary) carpe diem body tattoos (you’d be joining actress Judi Dench, who just got ‘carpe diem’ tattooed on her wrist for her 81st birthday).

Have a great summer – and don’t forget to have yourself a dance on the beach.

Roman

The Secret to the Good Life: Live Every Day Twice

‘Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now.’

This mind-bending maxim is courtesy of the Austrian existential psychotherapist and Auschwitz survivor Victor Frankl. He considered it to be one of the keys to living a meaningful life and confronting ‘life’s finiteness’. So what does it really mean, and what light does it shine on seizing the day?

One way of interpreting it, which I explore in my crowdfunded book Carpe Diem Reclaimed (now 93% funded!), appears in the 2013 film About Time, directed by Richard Curtis. What at first looks like a typical romantic comedy turns out to be an enlightening take on Frankl’s idea.

About Time concerns a young man, Tim, who on his 21st birthday is told by his father that, like all men in his family, he has an inherited ability to transport himself back in time to any date or place in his memory. After overcoming his disbelief, Tim first uses his new power – unsurprisingly – to get himself a girlfriend.

But the film becomes far more philosophically interesting towards the end (get ready for some spoilers). Tim’s father is dying of cancer and reveals to his son the secret to a happy life: live each day as normal, with all its tensions and worries, then go back and live it again, but this time making an effort to notice all the beautiful moments and small pleasures life has to offer.

Tim tries this himself, but then discovers an even richer philosophy which doesn’t require any time travel at all: ‘I just try to live every day as if I’ve deliberately come back to this one day, to enjoy it.’ Now that’s a profound idea and one we can all try out.

We see him putting it into practice – kissing his wife tenderly as she wakes in the morning rather than rushing out of bed; having fun with his kids while he makes them breakfast before school; and making an effort to look the cashier in the eye and smile when buying his lunch. Treat yourself to some of this in the wonderful final scene here.

The carpe diem message of About Time is about being in the moment, being attentive and present, noticing the sweetness of the world. As Richard Curtis said in an interview, the ‘movie is saying that we should relish every normal day and live it just for the day itself, not for what the day might achieve’.

I doubt Frankl would have agreed with this approach to life (he believed it was important to focus on future goals), but I think if he’d watched this film he still might have given it five stars.

Carpe Diem Reclaimed has reached 93% of its funding target. If you’ve been thinking of supporting the book but haven’t quite got around to it, now is the moment to seize the day and help push it over the finishing line!

Frankl Live Twice

Steve Jobs Was Wrong: Don’t Live Each Day Like It’s Your Last

Steve Jobs 1

Live each day like it’s your last. It’s been the mantra of everyone from the Ancient Roman philosopher Seneca to the digital sage Steve Jobs. In my humble opinion, however, there are five fundamental reasons why it is one of the most misguided pieces of life advice to have emerged in Western history. You can find out more by reading a new article I’ve written over at YES magazine.

The article is based on my forthcoming crowdfunded book Carpe Diem Reclaimed.

A quick update on the campaign: it’s speeding along and is now almost 70% funded. Thanks to everyone who has supported it.

IF YOU’VE BEEN THINKING OF BACKING THE BOOK BUT HAVEN’T QUITE GOT ROUND TO IT, NOW’S THE TIME TO SEIZE THE DAY! 3 REASONS:

1.Join Philip Pullman. You’ll be one of more than 250 supporters with your name printed in the back, alongside great authors like Philip Pullman (who made the first pledge).

2.Unique rewards. Sure, you can get a beautiful book. But you can also pledge to be an Editorial Advisor, giving comments on the manuscript itself, or take part in an exclusive Carpe Diem Workshop (or give it to someone as a gift).

3.Save the world. Yes, I believe that carpe diem is a great untapped political force for our times, and a cure for the apathy that stands in the way of tackling wealth inequality, climate change and corruption.

And that’s just for starters…

My aim is to reach 100% by May 1. I’d be thrilled if you gave your support. All power to the crowd!

Pre-order Carpe Diem Regained

What song makes you seize the day?

I’m crowdfunding my new book Carpe Diem Reclaimed with the lovely and rather funky publisher Unbound – in just two weeks it’s already reached 55% of the target, so big thanks to everyone who has backed it.

One of the best things about crowdfunding is the crowd bit: it’s not every day that an author gets to know a book’s readers before the book is even finished. And it’s a great source of ideas. Last week I posted the following message on Facebook and Twitter: Continue reading

Carpe Diem Reclaimed – thank you for seizing the day!

Carpe Diem Reclaimed video still 1

Dear Friends

I’m delighted to let you know that the crowdfunding campaign for my new book Carpe Diem Reclaimed has got off to a great start. The support so far has been amazing: over once-third of the target has been reached in under a week, with pledges from around 150 people.

A huge thanks to those of you who have already backed the book. It’s been wonderful to have the support of everyone from old high school friends to some of my favourite writers such as Philip Pullman (who made the first pledge). There’s been some great media coverage too.

If you haven’t yet had a chance to look at it, you can watch the 2 min video and read an extract here. If you like what you see, you can pledge to get a beautiful edition of the book with your name printed in the back. The funds will be used to finance production costs, from editing and proof reading to cover design and printing. The faster the target is reached, the sooner the book will come out. I would be thrilled to have your support.

If you are outside the UK, you can use the promotional code ‘overseas’ to get a discount on postage abroad.

It would also be great if you could share the link with some friends – this really helps spread the word: https://unbound.co.uk/books/carpe-diem-reclaimed

Finally, for those of you who are curious why I wrote the book, have a look at this blog post about how an epiphany on the stairs sparked it all off.

Best wishes

Roman