The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work Quotes

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The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton
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The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work Quotes Showing 1-30 of 32
“When does a job feel meaningful? Whenever it allows us to generate delight or reduce suffering in others. Though we are often taught to think of ourselves as inherently selfish, the longing to act meaningfully in our work seems just as stubborn a part of our make-up as our appetite for status or money. It is because we are meaning-focused animals rather than simply materialistic ones that we can reasonably contemplate surrendering security for a career helping to bring drinking water to rural Malawi or might quit a job in consumer goods for one in cardiac nursing, aware that when it comes to improving the human condition a well-controlled defibrillator has the edge over even the finest biscuit.

But we should be wary of restricting the idea of meaningful work too tightly, of focusing only on the doctors, the nuns of Kolkata or the Old Masters. There can be less exalted ways to contribute to the furtherance of the collective good....

....An endeavor endowed with meaning may appear meaningful only when it proceeds briskly in the hands of a restricted number of actors and therefore where particular workers can make an imaginative connection between what they have done with their working days and their impact upon others.”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“The challenge lies in knowing how to bring this sort of day to a close. His mind has been wound to a pitch of concentration by the interactions of the office. Now there are only silence and the flashing of the unset clock on the microwave. He feels as if he had been playing a computer game which remorselessly tested his reflexes, only to have its plug suddenly pulled from the wall. He is impatient and restless, but simultaneously exhausted and fragile. He is in no state to engage with anything significant. It is of course impossible to read, for a sincere book would demand not only time, but also a clear emotional lawn around the text in which associations and anxieties could emerge and be disentangled. He will perhaps only ever do one thing well in his life.

For this particular combination of tiredness and nervous energy, the sole workable solution is wine. Office civilisation could not be feasible without the hard take-offs and landings effected by coffee and alcohol.”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“He was a volatile mixture of confidence and vulnerability. He could deliver extended monologues on professional matters, then promptly stop in his tracks to peer inquisitively into his guest's eyes for signs of boredom or mockery, being intelligent enough to be unable fully to believe in his own claims to significance. He might, in a past life, have been a particularly canny and sharp-tongued royal advisor.”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“He was marked out by his relentless ability to find fault with others' mediocrity--suggesting that a certain type of intelligence may be at heart nothing more or less than a superior capacity for dissatisfaction.”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“For the rest of history, for most of us, our bright promise will always fall short of being actualised; it will never earn us bountiful sums of money or beget exemplary objects or organisations....

Most of us stand poised at the edge of brilliance, haunted by the knowledge of our proximity, yet still demonstrably on the wrong side of the line, our dealings with reality undermined by a range of minor yet critical psychological flaws (a little too much optimism, an unprocessed rebelliousness, a fatal impatience or sentimentality). We are like an exquisite high-speed aircraft which for lack of a tiny part is left stranded beside the runway, rendered slower than a tractor or a bicycle.”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“It seems, in fact, that the more advanced a society is, the greater will be its interest in ruined things, for it will see in them a redemptively sobering reminder of the fragility of its own achievements. Ruins pose a direct challenge to our concern with power and rank, with bustle and fame. They puncture the inflated folly of our exhaustive and frenetic pursuit of wealth.”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“To look at the paper is to raise a seashell to one's ear and to be overwhelmed by the roar of humanity.”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“For thousands of years, it had been nature--and its supposed creator--that had had a monopoly on awe. It had been the icecaps, the deserts, the volcanoes and the glaciers that had given us a sense of finitude and limitation and had elicited a feeling in which fear and respect coagulated into a strangely pleasing feeling of humility, a feeling which the philosophers of the eighteenth century had famously termed the sublime.

But then had come a transformation to which we were still the heirs.... Over the course of the nineteenth century, the dominant catalyst for that feeling of the sublime had ceased to be nature. We were now deep in the era of the technological sublime, when awe could most powerfully be invoked not by forests or icebergs but by supercomputers, rockets and particle accelerators. We were now almost exclusively amazed by ourselves.”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“After Carol had left, as Symons threw away a pile of used tissues and rearranged the cushions on the couch, he remarked that the most common and unhelpful illusion plaguing those who came to see him [as a career counselor] was the idea that they ought somehow, in the normal course of events, to have intuited--long before they had finished their degrees, started families, bought houses and risen to the top of law firms--what they should properly be doing with their lives. They were tormented by a residual notion of having through some error or stupidity on their part missed out on their true 'calling.”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“Our exertions generally find no enduring physical correlatives. We are diluted in gigantic intangible collective projects, which leave us wondering what we did last year and, more profoundly, where we have gone and quite what we have amounted to....

How different everything is for the craftsman who ... can step back at the end of a day or lifetime and point to an object--whether a square of canvas, a chair or a clay jug--and see it as a stable repository of his skills and an accurate record of his years, and hence feel collected together in one place, rather than strung out across projects which long ago evaporated into nothing one could hold or see.”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“...workplace dynamics are no less complicated or unexpectedly intense than family relations, with only the added difficulty that whereas families are at least well-recognised and sanctioned loci for hysteria reminiscent of scenes from Medea, office life typically proceeds behind a mask of shallow cheerfulness, leaving workers grievously unprepared to handle the fury and sadness continually aroused by their colleagues.”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“Blind impatience is equally evident in the fruit section. Our ancestors might have delighted in the occasional handful of berries found on the underside of a bush in late summer, viewing it as a sign of the unexpected munificence of a divine creator, but we became modern when we gave up on awaiting sporadic gifts from above and sought to render any pleasing sensation immediately and repeatedly available.”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“Let death find us as we are building up our matchstick protests against its waves.”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“It is surely significant that the adults who feature in children's books are rarely, if ever, Regional Sales Managers or Building Services Engineers.”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“However powerful our technology and complex our corporations, the most remarkable feature of the modern working world may in the end be internal, consisting in an aspect of our mentalities: in the widely held belief that our work should make us happy. All societies have had work at their centre; ours is the first to suggest that it could be something more than a punishment or a penance. Ours is the first to imply that we should seek to work even in the absence of a financial imperative.”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“The true nature of bureaucracy may be nowhere more obvious to the observer than in a developing country, for only there will it still be made manifest by the full complement of documents, files, veneered desks and cabinets - which convey the strict and inverse relationship between productivity and paperwork.”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“What makes the prospect of death distinctive in the modern age is the background of permanent technological and sociological revolution against which it is set, and which serves to strip us of any possible faith in the permanence of our labours. Our ancestors could believe that their achievements had a chance of bearing up against the flow of events. We know time to be a hurricane. Our buildings, our sense of style, our ideas, all of these will soon enough be anachronisms, and the machines in which we now take inordinate pride will seem no less bathetic than Yorick's skull.”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“Partially undermining the manufacturer's ability to assert that its work constituted a meaningful contribution to mankind was the frivolous way in which it went about marketing its products. Grief was the only rational response to the news that an employee had spent three months devising a supermarket promotion based on an offer of free stickers of cartoon characters called the Fimbles. Why had the grown-ups so churlishly abdicated their responsibilities? Were there not more important ambitions to be met before Death showed himself on the horizon in his hooded black cloak, his scythe slung over his shoulder?”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“What a peculiar civilisation this was: inordinately rich, yet inclined to accrue its wealth through the sale of some astonishingly small and only distantly meaningful things, a civilisation torn and unable sensibly to adjudicate between the worthwhile ends to which money might be put and the often morally trivial and destructive mechanisms of its generation.”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“At the top of the slope on the perimeter of the site, overlooking six lanes of motorway, is a diner frequented by lorry drivers who have either just unloaded or or are waiting to pick up their cargo. Anyone nursing a disappointment with domestic life would find relief in this tiled, brightly lit cafeteria with its smells of fries and petrol, for it has the reassuring feel of a place where everyone is just passing through--and which therefore has none of the close-knit or convivial atmosphere which could cast a humiliating light on one's own alienation. It suggests itself as an ideal location for Christmas lunch for those let down by their families.”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“It isn't normal to know what we want. It is a rare and difficult psychological achievement.”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“It seems easier to respond to our enthusiasms by trading in facts than by investigating the more naive question of how and why we have been moved”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“De door alcohol opgewekte gevechten die op zaterdagavonden in provincieplaatsen uitbreken zijn voorspelbare symptomen van onze verbolgenheid over deze vrijheidsberoving. Ze herinneren ons aan de prijs die we betalen voor onze dagelijkse onderwerping aan orde en beleid - en aan de woede die stilletjes aanzwelt achter een gezagsgetrouwe en inschikkelijke façade.”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“We gaan in op reusachtige, ongrijpbare collectieve projecten, zodat we ons afvragen wat we vorig jaar deden, sterker nog, waar wij zijn gebleven en wat er van ons geworden is. We zien onze verspilde krachten onder ogen tijdens het pathos van een pensioneringsfeestje.”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“Hoe machtig onze technologie en hoe complex onze ondernemingen ook mogen zijn, het opmerkelijkste kenmerk van onze moderne arbeid is uiteindelijk misschien wel iets wat in onszelf zit, een aspect van onze mentaliteit: de wijdverbreide overtuiging dat ons werk ons gelukkig moet maken.”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“Onszelf beschouwen als het middelpunt van het heelal, de huidige tijd als het hoogtepunt van de geschiedenis en onze geplande vergaderingen als gebeurtenissen van het grootst mogelijke gewicht, voorbijgaan aan de lessen die begraafplaatsen ons leren, slechts nu en dan een boek lezen, de druk van deadlines voelen, tegen collega's snauwen, ons door conferentieroosters heen werken met vermeldingen als:'11.00 uur tot 11.15 uur: koffiepauze', ons inhalig en zonder scrupules gedragen en ten slotte opbranden in de strijd - misschien is dit alles uiteindelijk de wijsheid die ons werk ons te bieden heeft.”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“When does a job feel meaningful? Whenever it allows us to generate delight or reduce suffering in others. Though we are often taught to think of ourselves as inherently selfish, the longing to act meaningfully in our work seems just as stubborn a part of our make-up as our appetite for status or money.”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“Yet our world of abundance, with seas of wine and alps of bread, has hardly turned out to be the ebullient place dreamt of by our ancestors in the famine-stricken years of the Middle Ages. The brightest minds spend their working lives simplifying or accelerating functions of unreasonable banality. Engineers write theses on the velocities of scanning machines and consultants devote their careers to implementing minor economies in the movements of shelf-stackers and forklift operators. The alcohol-inspired fights that break out in market towns on Saturday evenings are predictable symptoms of fury at our incarceration. They are a reminder of the price we pay for our daily submission at the altars of prudence and order - and of the rage that silently accumulates beneath a uniquely law-abiding and compliant surface.”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“Its particular interest for Ian, however, lay in its thesis about the history of the Dutch relationship to windmills, for it emphasized that these early industrial objects had originally been felt to have all the pylons' threateningly alien qualities, rather than the air of enchantment and playfulness now routinely associated with them. They had been denounced from pulpits and occasionally burnt to the ground by suspicious villagers.”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“There is something improbably about the silence in the [subway] carriage, considering how naturally gregarious we are as a species. Still, how much kinder it is for the commuters to pretend to be absorbed in other things, rather than revealing the extent to which they are covertly evaluating, judging, condemning and desiring each other. A few venture a glance here and there, as furtively as birds pecking grain. But only if the train crashed would anyone know for sure who else had been in the carriage, what small parts of the nation's economy had been innocuously seated across the aisle just before the impact: employees of hotels, government ministries, plastic-surgery clinics, fruit nurseries and greetings-card companies.”
Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

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