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

Welcome to the Empathy Wars (or Why Peter Singer is Wrong)

Peter Singer and Roman Krznaric at Blackwell's Bookshop Oxford June 2015The empathy critics are on the rampage. Led by the Yale psychologist Paul Bloom, the anti-empathy brigade claim that empathy is a weak or even distorting force in moral life and public affairs. The most recent convert is Peter Singer, perhaps the world’s most influential moral philosopher and author of classic texts such as Animal Liberation. In a recent public conversation I had with him as part of the Empathy Festival at Blackwell’s Bookshop Oxford (see photo), he argued that ethics should be led by rational thinking rather than empathy (of course, I didn’t agree).

In response to Singer’s claims, I have written an article at Open Democracy, called Welcome to the Empathy Wars. It makes the case that critics like Bloom and Singer are fundamentally mistaken, particularly because they fail to recognise the crucial role that cognitive empathy plays in establishing human rights and social justice.

Do have a look at the article, which is based on my book Empathy, and make up your own mind. Whose side are you in the Empathy Wars?

 

UPDATE! Empathy Sermon at The School of Life (with Stevie Wonder and Nina Simone)

So sorry folks but in the blog post I just sent you about my recent Empathy Sermon at The School of Life many people couldn’t see the embedded video in their email. So here is the post again but this time including a link to the video. Big apologies. Hope you enjoy it…

It was a huge privilege and pleasure to give one of The School of Life’s Sunday Sermons at London’s historic Conway Hall recently. Last time I’d been there was to discuss the power of vulnerability with emotions researcher Brené Brown. This time I was there to talk about my new book Empathy, but that was just part of it. The 500-strong congregation stood at the beginning and end to sing two great empathy-related songs: Stevie Wonder’s Living for the City and Nina Simone’s Feeling Good. There were even little shoe-shaped biscuits from Biscuiteers

Here’s the video from the Sermon in full, where I talk about the six habits of highly empathic people and how to make them part of your everyday life.

Roman Krznaric’s new book Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution is out now.

BUY THE BOOK (UK)
FIND OUT MORE

Empathy Sermon at The School of Life (with Stevie Wonder and Nina Simone)

It was a huge privilege and pleasure to give one of The School of Life’s Sunday Sermons at London’s historic Conway Hall recently. Last time I’d been there was to discuss the power of vulnerability with emotions researcher Brené Brown. This time I was there to talk about my new book Empathy, but that was just part of it. The 500-strong congregation stood at the beginning and end to sing two great empathy-related songs: Stevie Wonder’s Living for the City and Nina Simone’s Feeling Good. There were even little shoe-shaped biscuits from Biscuiteers

Here’s the video from the Sermon in full, where I talk about the six habits of highly empathic people and how to make them part of your everyday life.

Roman Krznaric’s new book Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution is out now.

BUY THE BOOK (UK)
FIND OUT MORE

How to master simple living in 2014

Okay, the Christmas frenzy is over and it’s time for resolutions. What’s it going to be in 2014? For the coming year I’m going to borrow a mantra from the 19th century naturalist Henry David Thoreau, who preached the pleasures and virtues of ‘simplicity, simplicity, simplicity’.

And for a bit more inspiration, I’ve written an article on what we can learn today from the great simple livers from history (including Thoreau). Check it out over at YES! Magazine.

Have you tried the six varieties of love?

We’re all pretty sophisticated when it comes to ordering a cup of coffee – do you want a latte, a cappuccino, a mocha or maybe a double espresso? But we are incredibly crude in the way we talk about love, using a single word to describe so many kinds of relationship. Those clever Ancient Greeks, though, recognised six different varieties of love.

I’ve just written an article about the six Greek loves, which you will find at Yes Magazine. Have a read and see if makes you rethink our culture’s obsession with the idea of romantic love.

The article is based on my new book How Should We Live? Great Ideas from the Past for Everyday Life, published in the US last week. (In the UK this same book was published under the title The Wonderbox – apologies for any confusion!)

Six Life Lessons from Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy was more than just a great novelist with one of the best beards of the nineteenth century. He was also a radical social and political thinker who was constantly grappling with the problem of how to live. I’ve just written an article about his approach to the art of living called Six Life Lessons from Leo Tolstoy, which you can find over at Powells Books Blog.

The article is based on my new book How Should We Live? Great Ideas from the Past for Everyday Life, published in the US this week. (In the UK this same book was published under the title The Wonderbox – apologies for any confusion!)

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