In re-examining society's ideas of success and failure, Alaine de Botton is in the same mould as public intellectuals as Malcolm Gladwell. de Botton examines a very common concept and exposes a multitude of philosophical and societal nuances. de Botton's inquiries are simple: Is success always earned? Is failure? In examining this from philosophical and historical trajectories, often humorous and humble, de Botton reveals four very simple truths to our society's basic unhappiness which are important for us all to remember during times of stress and convolutions of life:
1) Insecurity - The majority of consumers are at one point or another insecure about a certain element of their lifestyles. Hence, consumer goods are used to nullify uncertainty and a way to contain the void.
2) Envy - Deep down, we all rate people we come across according to their status - and that often is tied to their profession. What we cannot have, we want. This wasn't always the case in human history. Deep down, we all want to become the next Bill Gates based on an idea or a stroke of brilliance; but when reality sets in, we are unsettled at the thought of being 'common'.
3) Meritocracy - There is no such thing as a purely meritocratic society. It is impossible to achieve what we are based on what we can do. Numerous factors (often based on pure luck) are involved as to how we get to where we are.
4) Success On Our Own Terms - Much of how we measure success is based on societal perceptions and values. Many strive to join a profession not based on want, but usually on prestige. Success is purely subjective; we must base success on what we set it out to be.