Tolstoy’s top tips for happiness in 2015

Tolstoy change yourselfBBC Radio 4 is celebrating the New Year with a marathon ten-hour dramatisation of Tolstoy’s epic novel War and Peace. As part of the festivities, I’ve written an article for the BBC on seven lessons we can learn from the life of the bearded sage for the art of living in 2015. Read the article here, which is based on my book The Wonderbox (published in the US as How Should We Live?). But if you want a quick taster of his top tips for a happy life:

1.Keep an open mind

2.Practice empathy

3.Make a difference

4.Master the art of simple living

5.Beware your contradictions

6.Become a craftsman

7.Expand your social circle

And here’s a wonderful short video clip showing Tolstoy himself putting some of the above into practice:

Happy New Year, Roman

Welcome to the Festival of Love

What Is Love exhibit Southbank Festival of LoveI was recently at London’s Southbank Centre for the launch of their fabulous summer Festival of Love. What made the occasion particularly special for me was that the two-month festival, running throughout July and August, has been based around the different varieties of love in Ancient Greece that appear in my book The Wonderbox. To set the scene I gave the opening talk on these forgotten approaches to the art of loving, discussing eros (sexual passion), philia (friendship), storge (familial love), pragma (mature love), ludus (playful love), agape (selfless love) and philautia (self-love). Continue reading

How Should We Live? Great Ideas from the Past for Everyday Life

HSWL Cover finalIt’s launch day for my new book How Should We Live? Great Ideas from the Past for Everyday Life, which has just been released in the US. Previously published in the UK under the title The Wonderbox (sorry, a bit confusing, I know), it’s about what history can teach us about the art of living. What might we learn from the Ancient Greeks about the different varieties of love, from the Renaissance about creativity and death, or from the industrial revolution about rethinking our attitudes to work, money and family life?

But rather than tell you all about the book myself, there’s a fascinating review and discussion of it by the brilliant Maria Popova from Brain Pickings, which came out today. She describes it (most flatteringly) as ‘an illuminating and awakening read in its entirety’. Check out her full article, which focuses on the topics of love, time and empathy.


17 Ways to Seize the Day

carpediemdailyI’ve just finished writing a new book on empathy, due out early next year, provisionally titled Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution. In my effort to get the manuscript in on time, I’ve been neglecting answering emails and dealing with bills, and my study is piled with bits of paper that I’ve been meaning to file for months. I just came across one of those bits of paper that I’d completely forgotten about. It’s a list of 17 ideas to help you seize the day, which I prepared for a School of Life project a few years ago called Carpe Diem Daily. Continue reading

The Human Zoo: The tyranny of group-don’t-think

Anthony Gormley's FieldThere’s a fascinating new BBC Radio 4 series called The Human Zoo, looking at the ins and outs of who we really are – are we led by the head or the heart? what are the quirks and qualities that drive human behaviour? Episode 4 focuses on why human beings find it so difficult to admit when they are wrong, especially when they are part of groups. I’ve contributed some thoughts to the programme on The Tyranny of Group-Don’t-Think, which you’ll find in written form below… Continue reading

Why creativity is not about originality

Michelangelo was bad news for creativity

In this interview with bestselling novelist Fiona Robyn featured on her blog Writing Our Way Home, I discuss my approach to the process of creative writing and thinking, and suggest why creativity is not about originality, and how musician Brian Eno can help us think more adventurously. 

Fiona Robyn: What drives your creative work?

Roman Krznaric: A disastrous cultural inheritance from the Renaissance is the idea that creativity is about originality. We have in our minds the image of geniuses like Michelangelo, who was worshipped for his stunning originality, which seemed to be a divine gift from above. But I think that is off-putting for most of us, and makes us feel that if we aren’t being brilliant and original then we are lacking a creative streak. Continue reading

New book! How to Find Fulfilling Work by Roman Krznaric

My new book How to Find Fulfilling Work is out today.

About the book
Part of a new series of guides to everyday living from The School of Life (edited by Alain de Botton), How to Find Fulfilling Work aims to help people navigate the labyrinth of career choices out there and to find a job that is big enough for their spirits. It busts plenty of myths along the way, such as the idea that you can trust personality tests to guide you to the right job, and offers wisdom from philosophy, psychology, history and literature. There are plenty of unusual solutions to our career dilemmas too, including taking a radical sabbatical and aspiring to be a wide achiever rather than a high achiever, as well as timely career advice from Leonardo da Vinci, Marie Curie and even Zorba the Greek. And you will meet a woman whose 30th birthday present to herself was to try 30 different jobs in one year.

You can find out more about the book here and buy it from Amazon or your local bookstore.

The School of Life series is being launched with events around the UK and beyond.

Other authors in the series include Alain de Botton, Philippa Perry, John-Paul Flintoff, Tom Chatfield and John Armstrong.

Best wishes and happy reading! Roman

Extract from the opening of Chapter 1: The Age of Fulfilment

Rob Archer grew up on a housing estate in Liverpool where there was 50 per cent unemployment and the main industry was heroin. He fought his way out, studying hard and getting to university, and found a great job as a management consultant in London. He was earning plenty of money, he had interesting clients and his family was proud of him. ‘I should have been very happy, but I was utterly miserable,’ he recalls. ‘I remember being put on assignments in which I had no background but was presented as an expert. I was supposed to know about knowledge management and IT, but it all left me cold, and I always felt like an outsider.’ He did his best to ignore his feelings:

I assumed I should be grateful to just have a job, let alone a ‘good’ one. So I focused harder on trying to fit in and when that didn’t work, I lived for the weekend. I did this for ten years, burning the candle at both ends. Eventually it caught up with me. I became chronically stressed and anxious. Then one day I had to ask the CEO’s personal assistant to call me an ambulance because I thought I was having a heart attack. It turned out to be a panic attack. That’s when I knew I couldn’t go on. The problem was that all the alternatives – changing career, starting over again – seemed impossible. How could I trade in the security of my comfortable life for uncertainty? Wouldn’t I be risking all the progress I had made? I also felt guilt that I should even be searching for such luxuries as ‘meaning’ and ‘fulfilment’. Would my grandfather have complained at such fortune? Life appeared to offer an awful choice: money or meaning.

You can read the rest of Chapter 1 here.

Five dead people to follow in 2012

Browse the self-help shelves of your local book store and you’ll spot that most titles draw on psychology, philosophy and religion for their wisdom. But there is one realm where few of them have sought inspiration: history.

When asking the big questions about life, love, work and death, we sometimes forget that people have been grappling with these issues for centuries – and that means we’re missing out. As Goethe put it, ‘he who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth’.

So how can characters from history help lead our lives in new directions in 2012? Here’s my personal selection of five icons from the past who offer good ideas for better living.

1.Matsuo Basho: make an alternative pilgrimage

The seventeenth-century Japanese poet Basho was a compulsive wanderer who reinvented the art of travel. On one of his pilgrimages, lasting over two years, he naturally visited the holiest Buddhist shrines. But his originality was also to make pilgrimages to non-religious sites that held deep personal meaning for him, such as seeking out the willow trees described by his favourite poets. Continue reading