Haig has written some great fiction books for adults and children. Perhaps most extraordinary is his non-fiction work, Reasons to Stay Alive.
This is the blurb from the book: WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO FEEL TRULY ALIVE?
Aged 24, Matt Haig’s world caved in. He could see no way to go on living. This is the true story of how he came through crisis, triumphed over an illness that almost destroyed him and learned to live again. A moving, funny and joyous exploration of how to live better, love better and feel more alive, Reasons to Stay Alive is more than a memoir. It is a book about making the most of your time on earth.
‘I wrote this book because the oldest clichés remain the truest. Time heals. The bottom of the valley never provides the clearest view. The tunnel does have light at the end of it, even if we haven’t been able to see it . . . Words, just sometimes, really can set you free.’
Kingston University sends a book each year to its new undergraduates (started 3 years ago; superb idea that other universities or colleges could think about). In 2016, it was Haig's book The Humans. Haig recently accepted an honorary degree from Kingston.
"nothing is fundamental, not even nothing"
You can see his acceptance speech below and some his life advice is extracted below. Haig made a list of things he would have liked to have known. From his website, you can sense he has a fondness for lists. You can read some of his other lists here. It's worth a read too. Sample headings are: THINGS I LOVE, BOOKS THAT ALTERED MY EXISTENCE; FAVOURITE CHILDHOOD MEMORIES; THINGS I WORRY ABOUT; HORROR-SCOPE FOR 2100; ANNOYING THINGS; FAVOURITE OPENING LINES; and WHY I WRITE.
I've done a list:
- Most of the things that are worrying you now will not worry you in a few years. They'll be distant ships on the horizon. Try and reduce them to that size now.
- Try very hard to do work you enjoy doing. That should be the main aim. If you enjoy something, you'll be better at doing it. Why waste your working life on something you don't enjoy? In other words, don't take that media sales job in East Croydon. (That's a little bit specific....)
- Beware of how fast life travels. The first two decades of your life feel like forever, but your second two decades will feel like a few weeks in comparison. Appreciate that, don't rush your way through life.
- (The boring one): Look after yourself. Eat food that doesn't give you mouth ulcers, remember that crisps aren't lunch, drink soft drinks between hard drinks, don't get into pointless arguments on the internet (I'm particularly bad at that one...) , go for a run every now and then (your body is still going to be there in the morning and it will thank you).
- Remember that even on the busiest day, there's always time to call the people you love and tell them you love them.
- Learn to trust yourself. You'll never be able to know anyone else's mind as well as your own. When I started writing books, I was writing what I imagined other people wanted. That was totally the wrong approach – you can't be a mind reader. You have to trust yourself. If you want to write a silly story about aliens, write that story. Trust your gut and your own inner 'sat nav'. Learn to listen to it. If you get yourself right, you'll get other people right too.
- Don't let other people's doubts about you become your own doubts about you.
- Don't always head for the cool people. Head for the warm people. Kindness, laughter and love are worth a million tonnes of cool. Life is warmth – aim for warmth.
- It's more important to be yourself than to be accepted. I think this is the thing I struggled with the most. All through my 20's and into my 30's I was always agonisingly worried about what people thought of me. It truly is not a good idea wasting so much energy on worrying if you fit in, or trying to translate the frowns of strangers. That inspirational quote on Facebook was actually right – ‘it is far better to stand out as yourself than to blend in as someone else'. As Jim Carrey puts it, "Risk being seen in all your glory.
- Read more poetry. At least, read Emily Dickinson.
- Try and do some good in the world. This isn't entirely selfless – there is no drug in the universe that will make you feel as good at a deep level as being kind to other people.
- Visit new places, taste new foods, read new writers, make new friends. Explore the world but also explore your imagination – resist falling into the same, safe patterns.
- Be curious. This is how you stay young, the ultimate anti-ageing tip. Life isn't about what you know, but how much you're interested in knowing.
- Your education doesn't end today. You're going to learn a lot more after today, that's what makes life fun. Keep all the doors open.
- Stay optimistic. Optimism can be just as valid as pessimism, even more so in fact. Pessimism once told me I wouldn't live to see my 25th birthday. I'm now 42. Optimism can contain as much truth as the opposite. Hold on to whatever hope you've got and shield it like a flame.
- Don't be scared. Don't make decisions out of fear. Every wrong decision I've made over the last 20 years were the ‘sensible' ones, but being sensible is very often just a nice euphemism for being scared. One thing anxiety taught me is that when we act according to our fears, we strengthen them and then we end up trapped. Do things because you love doing them, not because they're the safest option – the safest option rarely is actually the safest option.
- There will be times when you fail. There will be bad days and there will be struggle, especially if you pursue a dream, but you need the bad days to make the good days seem good and sometimes we actually need to be knocked off track.
- Don't be afraid to be vulnerable. If you ever need help, don't be scared to ask for it. When you share your worries, you may be surprised at how supportive people can be.
- Live in the present tense. Up until this point, you have been living in the future tense – at school, you're always looking forward to the holidays or worrying about the next test or exam. Then it's pretty much the same thing at university. We're conditioned to live in the future, to work out where and who we want to be. Now though, you have a chance to finally live in the present, so don't spend every second of every day worrying about the what, who and where of the future. This is your present – learn a different lesson, learn to be in the present. The poet Emily Dickinson wrote a poem I discovered shortly after my student life, which said ‘forever is composed of nows'. Try and catch a few of them. You can spend your whole life obsessing about ghosts of the past or worrying about the future, but the corny truth is all there will ever be is what is happening here and the decisions we make in this moment.
- Most of all, don't forget to have fun. This is what we're here for – to make our own lives and other peoples' more enjoyable. Whatever journey you embark on after today, don't try and make it a straight line, take the scenic route and look around. We're given one sweet, precious life – enjoy it.
If you'd like to feel inspired by other addresses and life lessons try: Ursula K Le Guin on literature as an operating manual for life; Neil Gaiman on making wonderful, fabulous, brilliant mistakes; or Nassim Taleb's commencement address; or JK Rowling on the benefits of failure.
I leave you with this tongue in cheek video from Matt on being a self absorbed writer.