Reading: the only way to exercise and relax the mind at the same time.
But can books make us any happier once we've put them down?
According to Robert Rowland Smith, resident bibliotherapist at the School Of Life in Bloomsbury, London, they can.
Here are his suggestions for what to read to improve four key areas of your life.
1| Be a better lover
Ours is a culture obsessed with love. But usually the love is less about loving than being loved. That puts us in a passive state where we have to wait for the perfect person to come along. But Erich Fromm, the mid-20th-century philosopher, turns that assumption upside down. For him, we can make loving active (see his seminal work, The Art Of Loving). Also read Bert Hellinger’s Love’s Hidden Symmetry, which is full of wisdom.
2 | Be healthier
If you think real men don’t do yoga, think again. Pick up BKS Iyengar’s classic work, Light On Yoga, and you’ll see a man whose body, well into middle age and beyond, easily outdoes those of any of his younger, Western rivals. The book shows you how to do the poses and the benefits are huge – better sleep, better sex, better flexibility and a general sense of wellbeing. For a surreal alternative, try Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis.
3 | Get more out of work
All too often, we moan about work, but for Hannah Arendt, mid-20th-century political theorist, it’s work that makes us human. Distinguishing work from labour – labour being the basic activity of keeping yourself alive, like an animal foraging or hunting for food – Arendt believes work allows us to find a higher purpose, to make a difference in the world. It’s all set out in her classic work, The Human Condition.
4 | Realise your ambitions
Ambition tends to be seen as the relentless drive to achieve a set goal. Unfortunately, being liked along the way is not an option. At least, this is what Machiavelli argues in The Prince. “It’s better to be feared than to be loved,” writes Machiavelli, reasoning that fear is more likely to shore up your position. Or, if you really want to become a modern-day superman, read the ultimate text on the subject – Nietzsche’s The Will To Power.