A Guide to the Good Life is just that: a practical guide on how to live a life of tranquility and contentment. William B. Irvine takes the ancient wisdom of Stoic philosophy and reinterprets it for the modern day by:
- Sharing the history of Stoicism including its origin
- The psychological techniques to Stoicism (did you know Stoicism has a large emphasis on psychology?!)
- Stoic advice and thinking
- Examples of how this can be applied to modern day
Things I Learned
Hedonic Adaptation. That which we desire will, after some time, become commonplace and will require conscious effort for us to derive the same satisfaction from it. This runs rampant in Western culture that is obsessed with consumerism — too often do we chase material possessions only to get bored of them and begin to seek our next desirable target.
The solution to this: want less.
We humans are unhappy in large part because we are insatiable; after working hard to get what we want, we routinely lose interest in the object of our desire. Rather than feeling satisfied, we feel a bit bored, and in response to this boredom, we go on to form new, even grander desires.
Negative Visualization. Negative visualization and hedonic adaptation go hand in hand. Stoics encourage practicing visualizing the loss of our desires — whether they be material or not, as a way to reverse hedonic adaptation.
This is using the psychological game of loss aversion to help us reset the hedonic treadmill so we are reminded of how grateful we are to have the things in our life.
Negative visualization is a powerful antidote to hedonic adaptation. By consciously thinking about the loss of what we have, we can regain our appreciation of it, and with this regained appreciation we can revitalize our capacity for joy.
Understanding Control. One of the biggest life lessons for me is how to manage what I can control, and what I can’t. More importantly: for the things I can’t control, the easiest way to manage well-being is to focus on the things I can control in this particular scenario.
For example: I cannot control the amount of revenue I generate in a quarter — the decision to purchase is completely up to the user.
Instead of stressing about a goal that I cannot control and causing myself unnecessary stress, a better alternative is to focus on what is within my power to change: the amount of outreach I can do.
By focusing on outreach and delivering my best performance there, this will help me perform better and most likely make my goal more attainable.
The Stoics believed that it was pointless to dwell on things outside of your control. Instead, it’s best to focus purely on things you actually can control and influence.
Other Quotes that Resonate
- The easiest way for us to gain happiness is to learn how to want the things we already have.
- Stoicism, understood properly, is a cure for a disease. The disease in question is the anxiety, grief, fear, and various other negative emotions that plague humans and prevent them from experiencing a joyful existence.
- The Stoics discovered that exercising self-control has certain benefits that might not be obvious. In particular, as strange as it may seem, consciously abstaining from pleasure can itself be pleasant.
This is my first real introduction to Stoic philosophy and it’s like I’ve found my way home.
I’ve already been interested in applying a philosophical mindset to my outlook of life. This book helped reinforce why, like the author, Stoicism resonates more with me than spirituality like Zen Buddhism and meditation.
I like to think and reflect; and Stoicism encourages just that.
In addition, I realized I’ve been unconsciously practicing many Stoic philosophies as I try to lead a minimal life and curtail desires as well as focusing on what I can control and appreciating the things I have.
In addition, William B. Irvine’s introduces the history of Stoicism and the origination from the early Greeks. It is comforting to know that the Greeks at the time, barring gladiator fights, also exhibited similar challenges in life of unhappiness and dissatisfaction similar to us some 2,000 years later.
This makes me realize that as humans, our emotional urges and tendencies have not changed much throughout millennia. What we attribute to generational specific challenges are actually issues humankind has struggled with throughout history.
I read this book through an audio book and plan to re-read this in paper copy again going forward. Mainly because I think there are a lot of valuable life lessons that I’m aware of, but serve as useful reminders to look back on.
Title: A Guide to the Good Life
Author: William B. Irvine
Release Date: November 2008
Recommended For: Anyone interested in an introduction to Stoicism