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How Should We Live?

Great Ideas from the Past for Everyday Life

By Roman Krznaric
21-minute read
Audio available
How Should We Live?: Great Ideas from the Past for Everyday Life by Roman Krznaric

How Should We Live? (2013) gives a wide-lense view of why we Westerners tend to think the way we do. From love to work to death, it explains how our modern-day views evolved, and offers some age-old advice on how we might improve them.

  • People looking for a historical take on lifestyle advice
  • Anyone interested in the roots of our cultural preconceptions
  • General-knowledge buffs after a little extra history

Roman Krznaric, is a social philosopher and author. He is the cofounder, along with Alain de Botton, of The School of Life, in London. He has taught sociology and politics at both Cambridge University and City University London.

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How Should We Live?

Great Ideas from the Past for Everyday Life

By Roman Krznaric
  • Read in 21 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 13 key ideas
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How Should We Live?: Great Ideas from the Past for Everyday Life by Roman Krznaric
Synopsis

How Should We Live? (2013) gives a wide-lense view of why we Westerners tend to think the way we do. From love to work to death, it explains how our modern-day views evolved, and offers some age-old advice on how we might improve them.

Key idea 1 of 13

The modern Romantic idea of a soul mate is impractical in reality.

Finding love these days can be pretty tricky. After days spent trawling through profiles on dating sites, we spend countless evenings on awkward and unsuccessful dates. And, in the end, we wind up right where we began: alone.

But why is it so hard to find that special someone?

Well, we might be too narrow-minded when it comes to love. We expect a single individual to satisfy all our emotional needs. But these emotional needs are complex and diverse – and usually far too numerous for one person to meet.

So we might want to take a tip from the ancient Greeks, who had a much better approach to love.

They believed that love took six distinguishable forms:

  • Eros, the fiery, passionate yet dangerous love;
  • Philia, the platonic love between friends and comrades;
  • Ludus, the playfulness that is found among new lovers and children;
  • Pragma, the deep understanding that grows over time between partners;
  • Agape, the selfless, charitable love for our fellow humans;
  • and Philautia, the love of the self, which could be either a positive acceptance or a detrimental self-obsession.

Rather than relying on one partner to satisfy all these needs, the ancient Greeks believed that each role could be fulfilled by different individuals. This allowed them to spread their emotional needs across a wide range of relationships, making it easier for them to find love.

But how did we get from this ancient Greek ideal to our present, rather messy, state? Unfortunately, over the centuries, the six Greek forms of love gradually merged together.

This merging began in the medieval literature of Arabia, which popularized the passion of eros between two lovers, and the joining of their souls. The idea spread to medieval Europe, where it was combined with the selflessness of agape and became cortezia, or courtly love. Chivalric culture expected knights to perform noble, selfless deeds in the name of passionate love.

In the sixteenth century, the Dutch made these passions central to marriage, which was previously just a contract of alliance, and, in the process, combined them with the philia and pragma that grew between spouses.

Finally, twentieth-century capitalism brought the narcissism of philautia, as love became tied to consumerism.

So, if we want to find true love, it’s time we undid over two thousand years of history and looked for various individuals to fill our many emotional needs.

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