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

Are We Really All Driven by the Fear of Death? An Interview with Psychologist Sheldon Solomon

Deathstyle seventh_seal chess with death

This evening I told my six-year-old-twins the bad news: we have to put down our aging tortoiseshell cat Scully. Part of what made the task emotionally difficult was not just that they love the cat but that they live in a culture where they are shielded from death. If they’d been living in the nineteenth century they probably would have already seen a dead body, maybe laid out in someone’s home or at a neighbourhood funeral. But not today, where our contact with death, and conversations about it, are remarkably limited. Death is a subject as taboo as sex was during the Victorian era, even though issues such as euthanasia and palliative care are creating an element of public discussion. Continue reading

6 Ways to Teach Yourself Empathy

6WaystoTeachYourselfEmpathy‘Do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ wrote George Bernard Shaw, ‘they might have different tastes’. This and other ideas for teaching yourself empathy appear in this new article in Readers Digest magazine. You’ll also find some advice from one of my heroes, the American oral historian Studs Terkel, who I rate as one of the greatest conversationalists of the 20th century: ‘Don’t be the examiner, be the interested enquirer.’

Roman Krznaric’s new book, Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution, is published by Random House.

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!)

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

Have we all been duped by the Myers-Briggs test?

Beware personality testsINFP? ISTJ? You’ve probably taken a personality test at some point. But here’s the bad news: even the most popular tests, such as Myers-Briggs (MBTI), are not to be trusted. Retake a Myers-Briggs test after just a five week gap and there is a 50% chance you’ll be put into a different personality category. In this article at Fortune Magazine, I reveal the shocking truth about  personality tests.

Four Ways to Rethink ‘Having It All’ (Without Leaning In)

sheryl-sandberg-time-magazine-coverHere’s an article I just wrote for the Wall Street Journal on the dilemmas of balancing work and family life. Is Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, author of Leaning In, right to think that women can ‘have it all’ if only they really believe in themselves? My approach is not to answer the question ‘Is it possible to have it all?’ but to put it under the microscope and rethink it. (And this is an issue for men too…)