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A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

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One of the great fears many of us face is that despite all our effort and striving, we will discover at the end that we have wasted our life. In A Guide to the Good Life, William B. Irvine plumbs the wisdom of Stoic philosophy, one of the most popular and successful schools of thought in ancient Rome, and shows how its insight and advice are still remarkably applicable to One of the great fears many of us face is that despite all our effort and striving, we will discover at the end that we have wasted our life. In A Guide to the Good Life, William B. Irvine plumbs the wisdom of Stoic philosophy, one of the most popular and successful schools of thought in ancient Rome, and shows how its insight and advice are still remarkably applicable to modern lives. In A Guide to the Good Life, Irvine offers a refreshing presentation of Stoicism, showing how this ancient philosophy can still direct us toward a better life. Using the psychological insights and the practical techniques of the Stoics, Irvine offers a roadmap for anyone seeking to avoid the feelings of chronic dissatisfaction that plague so many of us. Irvine looks at various Stoic techniques for attaining tranquility and shows how to put these techniques to work in our own life. As he does so, he describes his own experiences practicing Stoicism and offers valuable first-hand advice for anyone wishing to live better by following in the footsteps of these ancient philosophers. Readers learn how to minimize worry, how to let go of the past and focus our efforts on the things we can control, and how to deal with insults, grief, old age, and the distracting temptations of fame and fortune. We learn from Marcus Aurelius the importance of prizing only things of true value, and from Epictetus we learn how to be more content with what we have. Finally, A Guide to the Good Life shows readers how to become thoughtful observers of their own life. If we watch ourselves as we go about our daily business and later reflect on what we saw, we can better identify the sources of distress and eventually avoid that pain in our life. By doing this, the Stoics thought, we can hope to attain a truly joyful life.


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One of the great fears many of us face is that despite all our effort and striving, we will discover at the end that we have wasted our life. In A Guide to the Good Life, William B. Irvine plumbs the wisdom of Stoic philosophy, one of the most popular and successful schools of thought in ancient Rome, and shows how its insight and advice are still remarkably applicable to One of the great fears many of us face is that despite all our effort and striving, we will discover at the end that we have wasted our life. In A Guide to the Good Life, William B. Irvine plumbs the wisdom of Stoic philosophy, one of the most popular and successful schools of thought in ancient Rome, and shows how its insight and advice are still remarkably applicable to modern lives. In A Guide to the Good Life, Irvine offers a refreshing presentation of Stoicism, showing how this ancient philosophy can still direct us toward a better life. Using the psychological insights and the practical techniques of the Stoics, Irvine offers a roadmap for anyone seeking to avoid the feelings of chronic dissatisfaction that plague so many of us. Irvine looks at various Stoic techniques for attaining tranquility and shows how to put these techniques to work in our own life. As he does so, he describes his own experiences practicing Stoicism and offers valuable first-hand advice for anyone wishing to live better by following in the footsteps of these ancient philosophers. Readers learn how to minimize worry, how to let go of the past and focus our efforts on the things we can control, and how to deal with insults, grief, old age, and the distracting temptations of fame and fortune. We learn from Marcus Aurelius the importance of prizing only things of true value, and from Epictetus we learn how to be more content with what we have. Finally, A Guide to the Good Life shows readers how to become thoughtful observers of their own life. If we watch ourselves as we go about our daily business and later reflect on what we saw, we can better identify the sources of distress and eventually avoid that pain in our life. By doing this, the Stoics thought, we can hope to attain a truly joyful life.

30 review for A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

  1. 5 out of 5

    Roy Lotz

    There will be—or already has been!—a last time in your life that you brush your teeth, cut your hair, drive a car, mow the lawn, or play hopscotch. In my review of Feeling Good, a self-help book, I noted the lack of practical philosophies in the modern world. Far from an original insight, I now see that this idea is a relatively common criticism of contemporary education and modern philosophy. The other day, for example, I stumbled upon a YouTube channel, the School of Life, an educational pr There will be—or already has been!—a last time in your life that you brush your teeth, cut your hair, drive a car, mow the lawn, or play hopscotch. In my review of Feeling Good, a self-help book, I noted the lack of practical philosophies in the modern world. Far from an original insight, I now see that this idea is a relatively common criticism of contemporary education and modern philosophy. The other day, for example, I stumbled upon a YouTube channel, the School of Life, an educational project that tries to teach life lessons rather than academic knowledge. This book, an attempt to revive ancient Stoicism, is part of the same loose movement. William B. Irvine set himself the task of making Stoicism viable and palatable in today’s world. To put it bluntly, this meant rummaging through the Stoic classics to make a self-help book. Whereas the classic Stoic authors—Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus—dispensed practical advice without much order, Irvine tries to create a systematic practice that any reader can follow. Irvine’s system consists of several mental exercises, or tricks, that the novice Stoic can use to gain tranquility. The most important of these is negative visualization: take a moment to imagine how things could go wrong, how you could lose what you have—your health, job, or spouse—and how everything you take for granted might never have existed at all. This will counteract what Irvine calls “hedonistic adaptation,” which is when we get used to the good things in our lives and lose the ability to enjoy them. Hedonistic adaptation is the real enemy of tranquility, because it forever enchains us to desire—as soon as one desire is satisfied, we have another one, and the process repeats without us getting any happier. Another Stoic exercise is the internalization of goals. First, determine the extent to which you can control the outcome of any situation; then, make sure you only worry about that part which you can control, and don’t trouble yourself about the rest. If you are going on a first date, for example, don’t make it your goal to impress the person—since you can’t directly control whether someone likes you or not—but make it your goal to try your best. In the language of self-help, that is, focus on the process and not the product, the effort and not the outcome. The last major technique can be better described as an attitude rather than an exercise. This is to take a fatalistic attitude towards the past. Since what happened in the past is beyond your power to alter, don’t trouble yourself with “if-onlys” or fill up your mind with regrets. Instead, try to cultivate amor fati, love of fate; learn to appreciate the good in what has happened, rather than think of all the ways it could have been better. The general attitude that a Stoic wishes to cultivate is a mixture of enjoyment and detachment: the ability to enjoy all of the little pleasures of daily life without becoming so attached to anything that you are incapacitated without it. It is rather like the attitude of a spectator at a play: heartily enjoying the show, while keeping in mind that all the action is staged and not worth getting upset over. With this mentality you could, in theory, be satisfied with anything, and maintain your tranquility under any circumstances. These, in nutshell form, are the book’s major pieces of advice. The rest of the book is divided into a brief historical sketch of Stoicism, a series of short chapters about applying Stoicism to specific challenges, and a broader cultural criticism from a Stoic perspective. The latter of these was the most interesting—Irvine isn’t a fan of political correctness or of grief counseling. He also has a lot of advice about responding to insults, some of which I thought was obvious, some of which I thought was wrong, and most of which made me wonder: Why is he talking so much about insults? Is poor Irvine getting insulted all the time? My main criticism of this book is its style. Perhaps because Irvine was trying to appeal to a popular market, the prose is painfully simple, and filled with unnecessary clarifications and wearying redundancies. "Repetitive" is a charitable description. Added to that, I often got the feeling that he was purposefully avoiding delving deeply into any topic, for fear of losing any novice readers, which irked me. The important question is: Do the techniques work? I have been having some fun imagining my life going horribly wrong: my metro being crushed underground in an earthquake, my computer bursting into flames and blinding me—getting struck by lighting on my walk to work, all of my friends leaving me en masse, and so on. Somehow, this exercise does tend to put me in a cheerful mood. I also agree with Irvine about desire—why hedonism doesn’t produce contentment, why connoisseurship is counterproductive, why it’s wise to accustom oneself to some disappointment and discomfort. At the very least, this book is an interesting experiment: trying to revive a dead philosophy of life for the twenty-first century. Now, to put Stoicism into practice, I'm going to imagine this review not getting any likes.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Amir Tesla

    Recommended to: If you are interested in applying philosophical views and wisdom to your life and if you value tranquility and inner peace above all. What this book is about: The author William Irvine who is a professor of philosophy at Wright State University after having read through many philosophy schools from Zen Buddhist to Cynics and Stoics has come into conclusion that living a stoic life is worth pursuing due to its promising benefit which is tranquility and joy. He has thus compiled tea Recommended to: If you are interested in applying philosophical views and wisdom to your life and if you value tranquility and inner peace above all. What this book is about: The author William Irvine who is a professor of philosophy at Wright State University after having read through many philosophy schools from Zen Buddhist to Cynics and Stoics has come into conclusion that living a stoic life is worth pursuing due to its promising benefit which is tranquility and joy. He has thus compiled teachings of great Stoics from Seneca to Marcus Aurelius and tailored them to suit the modern days. Pros: Author has provided well organized, practical bits of advice which are the essence of Stoic philosophy from negative visualization to practicing self-discipline through self-denial. Also, he has made a decent contribution on portraying an actual picture of what Stoicism is really about. Cons: Franky I saw no use of the last chapter, it had no relevance to a guide to a good life and it wasn't a short chapter believe me and the contents were advocation of stoic philosophy which he had done already in previous chapters very well. Selected synopsis: A potent way of confronting a disturbing situation is the use of negative visualization, namely, imagining what would happen if you lost your dear possessions, be it your car, house, or even your beloved. It argues that by doing so you come to appreciate your belonging far more than those who take things for granted. --- Internalize your goals: A beautiful piece of advice. It says that we must focus our attention on what we have full or partial control on, not the things we have no control over. For example, if you have a tennis match, don't set your goal on being the winner, because if you fail, you will lose your tranquility and become utterly upset, instead, make your goal to practice and play at highest level possible which in turn can have the added value of winning the match. --- What upsets people is not things themselves but their judgments about these things. --- What point is there on "being unhappy", just because once you were unhappy... --- We can easily replace out feelings of regret at having lost something with feelings of thanks for once having had it. --- Reason, is the best weapon against grief. Unless reason puts an end to our tears, fortune will not do so. --- If we seek social status, we give people power over us: since we have to do things calculated to make them admire us and we will have to refrain from doing things that will trigger their disfavor. --- To retain inner peace, focus on what you have control on, It's foolish to concerns ourselves with what we can't control like when the sun rises or when a dear person to us might die. --- Vices are contagious: They spread, quickly and unnoticed, from those who have them to those with whom they come into contact.

  3. 4 out of 5

    B. Rule

    This book gets 5 stars for subject, 2 stars for execution. The Stoics themselves are fascinating and every quote is a gem. However, the author doesn't trust the ancient Stoics to carry the argument. Instead, his account is a series of straw man arguments ("you might think that a Stoic would eat babies, but there's another reading..." Not quite that bad but almost.). Further, when he gets to the section on updating Stoicism for the modern world, the section where he has to do the heavy lifting by This book gets 5 stars for subject, 2 stars for execution. The Stoics themselves are fascinating and every quote is a gem. However, the author doesn't trust the ancient Stoics to carry the argument. Instead, his account is a series of straw man arguments ("you might think that a Stoic would eat babies, but there's another reading..." Not quite that bad but almost.). Further, when he gets to the section on updating Stoicism for the modern world, the section where he has to do the heavy lifting by himself, he has a failure of nerve or a bout of laziness or both. It turns into a hypothetical argument ("if one were to argue, one would start by describing how evolution supports Stoicism..." but he never actually makes the argument!) "One" should go ahead and make his argument, rather than totally copping out with a sketch of an idea. I was predisposed to like this book given the subject, but I was left wishing for a far better treatment. The Stoics deserve better.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Moeen Sahraei

    Have you ever thought about how we can live a happy life? Most people are thinking about it on daily basis and indeed it has been one of the greatest human concerns throughout history. Nowadays we can hardly find anyone to answer this question properly even the best philosophers are occupied with some other branches of philosophy such as logic, ethics, epistemology and ... But about more than 2000 years ago there were philosophers whose main job was to teach “philosophy of life”, which refers to Have you ever thought about how we can live a happy life? Most people are thinking about it on daily basis and indeed it has been one of the greatest human concerns throughout history. Nowadays we can hardly find anyone to answer this question properly even the best philosophers are occupied with some other branches of philosophy such as logic, ethics, epistemology and ... But about more than 2000 years ago there were philosophers whose main job was to teach “philosophy of life”, which refers to a comprehensive guide regarding how we should live in order to be happy and satisfied in our lives and how to alleviate or even eliminate all negative emotions such as anger, grief, anxiety, depression etc. The importance of having a philosophy of life is that if we don’t have a proper philosophy we might waste our precious life pursuing things that are not worth pursuing and attaining things that are not worth attaining. In other words, at the end of the life we might find out that we didn’t live a good life and we have just wasted it in haphazard way. Having A philosophy of life enables us to know the true value of everything we encounter and be aware of what we should focus on and what we should ignore. So, because of this importance there were schools in which great Greek philosophers taught their philosophy of life. Among them one of the most prominent and marvelous schools was the schools of “stoics”. They were great philosophers and psychologists who obtained a remarkable wisdom regarding how to get rid of negative emotions and consequently; live a happy life. The stoics asserts that the important goal in life is achieving “Tranquility”. By tranquility they mean a life without or with little negative emotions like anger and anxiety, and have a tranquil state of mind. They also thought that we can achieve tranquility by living a “virtuous” life. According to stoics, a virtuous person is one who performs well the function for which humans were designed. For example, a virtuous hammer is one that drive nails properly. So for what function were people designed?? To answer this question the stoics thought we need only examine ourselves. On doing so, we will discover that we Have the ability to reason and we differ from other animals in this respect, so a virtuous person should be reasonable. Other natural characteristics of human are the same. For example we are naturally social creatures, so we have duties to our fellow men. In sum, stoics claim that if we live virtuous( in conformity with nature) we will reach tranquility and as a result, we will live a happy and satisfied life. The author of this book is a proficient writer and he explained stoics theories in the best way possible. He focuses of practical aspects of stoics literature and explains their psychological techniques in a way that is so useful in everyday life. He also adds stoic sage’s advices about some important aspects of life such as how to treat in our social life, how to respond when we hear an insult, what should be attitude towards fame or fortune, and etc. I highly recommend this book to all sorts of readers, the least benefit of this book is that it will definitely help you to enhance your mental state.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Krishna Chaitanya

    If someone asks me why am I living and what is the purpose in life? then I don't have an answer. In pursuit of improving myself and better quality of life, I started reading self-help books and I've stumbled on Stoic mentions in other books on various occasions and thus I picked this one to learn about stoicism and this one is wonderful beginner book to become a practising stoic. Why is it important to have a philosophy of life? If not we might unintentionally lead a bad life and on death bed we If someone asks me why am I living and what is the purpose in life? then I don't have an answer. In pursuit of improving myself and better quality of life, I started reading self-help books and I've stumbled on Stoic mentions in other books on various occasions and thus I picked this one to learn about stoicism and this one is wonderful beginner book to become a practising stoic. Why is it important to have a philosophy of life? If not we might unintentionally lead a bad life and on death bed we contemplate and regret that we have lead a bad life and did not accomplish anything substantial. The purpose of practicing stoicism is to attain tranquility, this book helps you by providing teachings of Ancient stoics like Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and others. Towards the end of this book, as a practicing stoic, the author advices on practicing stoicism and how it would be helpful for you in this modern world. Stoicism teachings are not easy to follow, they are very difficult to practise. If you're planning to practice stoicism then the author strongly recommends to keep it a secret to avoid discouragement and humiliation from others. Few of the teachings I remember are: 1 - Negative imagination: This is a tough one, stoics tell that by practicing negative imagination, we don't take the people or things we value most for granted. E.g., If you value your house more, then imagine it is on fire, such that if the time comes you'll be able to cope with that disaster. Practising negative imagination for sometime in a day helps us to be more affectionate with our loved ones. 2 - Dealing with insults: Insults either direct or indirect cannot be avoided, in your career or in your personal life. Stoics tell us respond to insults with silence and much better with self-deprecating humour by this we'll become more immune to insults. 3 - About control: Do not worry about the things you cannot control like Weather or traffic and so on. Care only about the things which you have complete control like your goals and ambitions. If some cases you have partial control like a Tennis match you're playing, if you're adamant on winning the match, you might get disappointed and it disturbs your tranquility instead focus on giving the best you can. There's much more to learn from this book, it's worth giving it a try.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey

    There aren't many books written on a philosophy of life as there are 'philosophies' for life out there; and there aren't many books that exist in the great divide between academic philosophy and water-downed caricatures of philosophy (think Consolation of Philosophy but PART TWO...). Mr Irvine's book, however, provides one fairly detailed philosophy of life as Stoicism goes and bridges the divide by not only describing what is Stoicism but also, how to practice Stoicism for both tranquility and There aren't many books written on a philosophy of life as there are 'philosophies' for life out there; and there aren't many books that exist in the great divide between academic philosophy and water-downed caricatures of philosophy (think Consolation of Philosophy but PART TWO...). Mr Irvine's book, however, provides one fairly detailed philosophy of life as Stoicism goes and bridges the divide by not only describing what is Stoicism but also, how to practice Stoicism for both tranquility and joy in the context of our insane and insatiable consumerist culture amid other existential fears and anxieties. Let me say this first: this is a timely book in view of the Financial Crisis of 2008 transforming into something Unknown and Monstrous for 2009 and beyond. Here, Mr Irvine's book contains not just sound advice for living amid hardship, but also useful tidbits of wisdom in the face of calamity and unrest. But as the Fates would have it, it may be all good but a tad too late. Even so, Mr Irvine's book is part self-reflection, part 'what is Stoicism' (and who the Stoics were), and part how to be a Stoic. If you find yourself immediately put off by the word 'Stoic', don't. Mr Irvine has done marvelously well on explaining why the modern interpretation of 'Stoic' has been more of a misinterpretation than the lived reality of a good life: his reflection of those mundanely trivial but existentially heroic accounts of his own life suffice. However, what I find singularly troubling is Mr Irvine's ambition in explaining Stoicism at an extremely high level of evolutionary psychology; that the Stoics techniques have been designed to short-circuit what might be the undesirable consequences of human evolution on "autopilot" to the ultimate demise of the human psyche and society (e.g. insatiable greed for security and an extreme one, an eye for an eye to ensure one stays as the Alpha Male for reproduction). But consistent to the claims of the evolutionary psychology one can also find himself inevitably suggesting that because Stoicism exists, it must have also been somewhat effective in increasing the chance for successful reproduction; that merely than short-circuiting anxieties, fears, greed and so on for 'short-term' tranquility, it also acts as a long term catalyst, if not a direct cause for successful reproduction. So is Stoicism a cure or a cause? Is it both? In trying to explain the causes of the symptoms Stoicism tries to cure via evolutionary psychology, Mr Irvine opens up new questions he was not prepared to answer. In fact, what I find most satisfying, and also where the philosophical lore is the richest, are those direct and honest accounts of living as a Stoic in today's world. For example, in one of Mr Irvine's account of changing a 16 year old car for a 9 year old 'new' one with neither a radio nor a cup-holder brought a smile to my face--indeed, why do we need three jumbo cup-holders and 8000 channels on our car radios today? By 'downgrading', Mr Irvine suggests (he would probably use the word, 'simplifying') our materialistic lives, we are in fact 'upgrading' in virtuous Stoical character-building. I think I see Mr Irvine nodding. Yet, Mr Irvine shies away from those difficult, pressing questions as the contemporary mouth-piece, if not a modern peer to philosophers like Seneca and Epictetus. Sure, one can see how a new Ferrari can disturb one's newfound Stoical tranquility and joy. But what if one is not choosing between a materialistic entity which works on the principle of decreasing marginal satisfaction (hence an increasing indifference, if not dissatisfaction ) and a virtuous good, but between two competing virtuous goods, for example, in being responsible to my children, spouse or parents and being responsible to the duties and commitments of the workplace? The ultimate good of both choices are no different than the Stoic version of the highest goods of tranquility and joy, yet one is often compelled to choose only one, assuming that an acceptable balance between the two means some compromise to this tranquility. To this ultimate competition of ultimate goods, Mr Irvine's Stoicism has nothing to say. This is not to say that Mr Irvine's account is a straw-man account. But very often, perplexities and anxieties in life has to do with the competition of virtuous goods, and not to the marginal acquisition of a Ferrari or a Renoir. Perhaps this was why Marcus Aurelius hastened his own death as a public servant-emperor, who most likely, had to choose between two competing goods as a Stoic. In addition, what about those who collect Ferraris and Renoirs so they can appreciate their beauty? Because Mr Irvine assumes that crass materialism has solely been undertaken for the envy of our neighbors, Mr Irvine also misses the point that a good number of 'materialists' out there can also be aestheticians. Sure, Stoicism dismisses connoisseurship, especially connoisseurship that overly commits one to dependency on luxury, Mr Irvine argued. But surely a Stoic would not dismiss the appreciation of beauty through materialism as a path to Stoic tranquility and joy, as one may collect humble stamps and common vases, or grow roses? Lastly, Mr Irvine's overall account tacitly position his interest in broadly speaking to a certain class of citizens in certain advanced capitalistic economies. Tacitly, I think he was speaking to the middle and upper middle class of the American society. I don't know if Marcus Aurelius or Seneca made that assumption, though both were reputably wealthy individuals who had SOMETHING they can imagine themselves losing and hence, feel content through the practice of negative visualization. But it is true that in the world today, there are many who have NOTHING to lose; that is, they are not even substantively well-off and have nothing but their own bodies to be exploited and harvested by others. To tell these folks about practising negative visualization is to also mock them. If so, does this demonstrate that Stoicism is a philosophy predicated upon the class structure? To some extent by the absence in Mr Irvine's depiction, yes. But since we know the classical Stoics were not unreasonable brutes, then we must commit to the possibility that something is lacking in Mr Irvine's modern account in an unreasonably unjust world. This, I suppose, would be up to the readers' own musing, for Mr Irvine has nothing to say to this regard. Indeed, what Mr Irvine fails to mention--and I think if he did, aptly in a time like this--is that personal tranquility and joy may be necessary but not sufficient for a Good Life. Unlike the Greeks or the Romans who blissfully lived their circumscribed spheres thinking that theirs was the known world, Moderns can no longer afford the luxury of a the Good Life based on a Personal notion without relating to the Others (who often do not have it so Good). What we seem to need today, if Stoicism is indeed the philosophical practice for the Good Life, is not only to deflect insult for insult; or to abandon crass materialism for character-building; or to be justly indifferent to external circumstances, but in fact, to broadly engage these external circumstances in a fast-deteriorating and destructively spiraling external world we all inhabit, Stoics and 'materialists' alike. Mr Irvine lamented the demise of Stoicism after the Empire; but likely is the possibility that its notion of the Good Life is limited when Others don't have it so good. Without such an engagement, even a Stoic may find it difficult to attain the Good Life.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Darryl

    This popular book won't be of much interest to those who have already read Seneca, Epictetus, Musonius Rufus, and Marcus Aurelius, or, indeed, to anybody who has read a solid introduction to their thought. Nor would it satisfy those looking for a clear and concise description of Stoic psychological techniques or 'exercises': for that, one might turn to "Stoic Spiritual Exercises" by Elen Buzare. However, the book may be of interest to those seeking an easy-to-digest introductory exposition of Stoi This popular book won't be of much interest to those who have already read Seneca, Epictetus, Musonius Rufus, and Marcus Aurelius, or, indeed, to anybody who has read a solid introduction to their thought. Nor would it satisfy those looking for a clear and concise description of Stoic psychological techniques or 'exercises': for that, one might turn to "Stoic Spiritual Exercises" by Elen Buzare. However, the book may be of interest to those seeking an easy-to-digest introductory exposition of Stoic practice and "philosophy of life". Be warned, however, that Irvine's treatment of Stoic philosophy is a somewhat idiosyncratic interpretation. Irvine attempts to make Stoicism palatable for modern readers and applicable to their lives. In pursuing this end he may actually have, to some extent, distorted or misrepresented Stoicism. He points out, however, that he is writing to help people find a practical philosophy of life, not to please academics. He also points out that he is but one in a long line of interpreters of Stoic philosophy which stretches all the way back to the ancient world. "A Guide to the Good Life" is a popular book and probably deserves its popularity: the proof of the pudding is, after all, in the eating. However, it wasn't of much use to me personally, hence only three stars.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Renee Amberg

    I liked the idea of this book, however, it was more of a study than a read. I would have preferred the author to touch on these particular philosophical thoughts rather than the argument of why you need them in your life. I felt like the author was trying to pave a how-to way to live BY them rather than WITH them. If you can get past the essay style format, there are some intriguing points made. I honestly would have preferred a different text maybe outlining some of the essays/quotes from past I liked the idea of this book, however, it was more of a study than a read. I would have preferred the author to touch on these particular philosophical thoughts rather than the argument of why you need them in your life. I felt like the author was trying to pave a how-to way to live BY them rather than WITH them. If you can get past the essay style format, there are some intriguing points made. I honestly would have preferred a different text maybe outlining some of the essays/quotes from past philosophers (I really enjoyed the diary entry's from the past philosophers!) and how to integrate them into modern life. I think ultimately it fell flat because it was written as a guideline. I look at philosophy more of a thought process / reflection on what it is to be human.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Paula Vince

    The author's first book, On Desire: Why We Want What We Want was great, so I was pleased to have the opportunity to read this new one. Professor Irvine suggests that many people are dissatisfied and gloomy because we unconsciously live a lifestyle he calls "enlightened hedonism", in which we try to maximise the pleasure we experience, believing that as soon as we achieve a given goal, we'll be happy. The problem is that other unfulfilled desires instantly well up to take their place. He puts for The author's first book, On Desire: Why We Want What We Want was great, so I was pleased to have the opportunity to read this new one. Professor Irvine suggests that many people are dissatisfied and gloomy because we unconsciously live a lifestyle he calls "enlightened hedonism", in which we try to maximise the pleasure we experience, believing that as soon as we achieve a given goal, we'll be happy. The problem is that other unfulfilled desires instantly well up to take their place. He puts forward the alternative of living as the ancient Stoics used to, adapting their philosophy for our modern lives. Like many of us, he'd assumed that Stoicism was an outdated creed all about bottling our emotion and keeping stiff upper lips. Instead, he discovered that it may well hold the answers to a lifestyle of joy, satisfaction and peace. Basically, this is it in a nutshell. 1) To appreciate blessings more, we should take time to reflect how much worse off we'd be if we had them ripped away from us. He calls this "negative visualisation." Having read many books on the law of attraction, this idea of focusing on the negative bothered me at first. I guess that taking the advice in many of the books about gratitude on the market may achieve a similar result. 2) We shouldn't worry about dealing with things over which we have no control, and for things over which we have only partial control, we should internalise our goals. Instead of declaring, "I aim to win this tennis match" we'd be better off saying, "I'll play to the best of my ability." Then, even when results are not ideal, we can rest easy knowing that we've accomplished our goal and done our very best. 3) We should occasionally put ourselves in the position of being uncomfortable (cold, hungry, thirsty, nervous) to better appreciate the value of what we have at other times. I was interested in the Stoics' opinion about not seeking fame. It comes at a price which they thought far outweighed any benefit it could confer. The Stoics were careful to be indifferent about the opinions of others, whether positive or negative. Their attitude to wealth and an affluent lifestyle was that these may deaden our ability to take delight from simple things. Connoisseurs with an inability to enjoy anything but 'the best', rather than being admired, are to be pitied for seriously impairing their ability to enjoy life. And the Stoic Epictetus' advice on how much wealth we should acquire was, "an amount that doesn't descend to poverty but isn't far removed from poverty." That's way different to many other self-help books written in the 21st century. As far as that goes, I'm already pretty well there. He concludes with the point that it does take effort to follow stoic principles but more effort not to. I'm intrigued to keep it all in mind and give it a bit of go. I think the areas discussed do address the areas in which I've felt most dissatisfaction. It directly contradicts advice in other popular books, such as, "achieve more, become admired, live like a king." Interestingly, I couldn't help thinking that although Jesus was not a Stoic, he was a contemporary of them and shared many of the same characteristics. It seems the best way to gain satisfaction may be not to do as the world tells us and work our butts off to satisfy our desires, but instead, to work to master those desires. Although I noticed some scholarly type reviewers ranked this book low because it doesn't read like a dry, university text book, I believe the author intended it for ordinary, laymen types like me, and I appreciated it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    William2

    This is a very practical guide to living well. Please don't let the grounding in philosophy put you off. The Stoics were the most useful of philosophers. What Irvine has done is to distill the teachings of Seneca, Epictetus, Musonius, Marcus Aurelius and the others into concise guidelines that can be applied to everyday life. No abstractions heaped on abstractions here. This is lively prose intended to instill a number of basic mental concepts that can bring tranquility--the overarching Stoic id This is a very practical guide to living well. Please don't let the grounding in philosophy put you off. The Stoics were the most useful of philosophers. What Irvine has done is to distill the teachings of Seneca, Epictetus, Musonius, Marcus Aurelius and the others into concise guidelines that can be applied to everyday life. No abstractions heaped on abstractions here. This is lively prose intended to instill a number of basic mental concepts that can bring tranquility--the overarching Stoic ideal--to our lives. A final section showing why Stoicism fell from popular favor and why we should integrate it into our lives is particularly interesting. Read it as an Introduction to the aforementioned authors, or as a refresher.

  11. 4 out of 5

    robin friedman

    Stoicism As A Philosophy Of Life Academic life often leads people in unexpected directions. William Irvine is Professor of Philosophy at Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio. After receiving his PhD from UCLA in 1980, Irvine taught and practiced analytic philosophy for many years before gradually losing interest in it as overly technical and removed from life. Irvine looked for other philosophical and personal options and came close to adopting a Zen Buddhist practice. He ultimately rejected Zen Stoicism As A Philosophy Of Life Academic life often leads people in unexpected directions. William Irvine is Professor of Philosophy at Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio. After receiving his PhD from UCLA in 1980, Irvine taught and practiced analytic philosophy for many years before gradually losing interest in it as overly technical and removed from life. Irvine looked for other philosophical and personal options and came close to adopting a Zen Buddhist practice. He ultimately rejected Zen because it did not fit the analytic quality of his mind. Irvine then began a serious study of the Greek and Roman stoics, philosophers he never had to read during his years of philosophical study. The result was his book "On Desire: Why We Want what we Want" (2006) followed by this book, "A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy" (2008) in which Irvine articulates a contemporary stoic philosophy. Irvine writes for the educated lay reader rather than for academic philosophers. He argues that an important task of philosophy is to help individuals form a "philosophy of life" that gives meaning and purpose. Without a philosophy of life, Irvine argues, "there is danger that you will mislive-- that despite all your activity, despite all the pleasant diversion you might have enjoyed while alive, you will end up living a bad life. There is, in other words, a danger that when you are on your deathbed, you will look back and realize that you wasted your one chance at living. Instead of spending your life pursuing something genuinely valuable, you squandered it because you allowed yourself to be distracted by the various baubles life has to offer." Besides helping a person to discover his or her "grand goal in living", philosophy also has the task of pointing out a path or strategy for realizing the goal. As mentioned above, Irvine seriously explored Zen Buddhism but found ancient stoicism more suitable to his character in setting out a goal and a means for its attainment. In his book, Irvine explains the need people to reflect and form a philosophy of life, the value of stoicism, and the means of practicing stoicism. He also takes stoicism out of its ancient theological and teleological (teleology means finding that nature acts purposefully) bases and restates it under assumptions of naturalism. In the first part of the book, Irvine offers a rapid overview of ancient philosophy and ancient stoicism, culminating in four philosophers of the Roman Empire, Seneca, Musonius Rufus, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius.Irvine shows that the "grand goal" of these philosophers shifted gradually from the reason and "eudamoneia" (a difficult word meaning roughly "virtue") of the Greeks to a goal of emotional tranquility. This, rather than the Greek goal, is the goal Irvine adopts. The goal of tranquility does not advocate suppressing emotions or becoming a zombie. Rather, Irvine defines "tranquility" as "a psychological state marked by the absences of negative emotions, such as grief, anger, and anxiety, and the presence of positive emotions, such as joy." After identifying the goal, Irvine offers steps towards its attainment. He recommends living modestly, being content with what one has, letting go of the past and of feelings of remorse and guilt, and meditation and reflection on one's goals. A stoic life is internalized, which means it depends of developing what is in one's control rather than seeking for happiness in things outside one's control. To give examples from my own life. I get frustrated when my teachers and others do not rate my piano playing as highly as I would like. I have to remember that the goal of playing the piano is not to have a concert career or to impress others but to bring out music for myself and for those who want to hear. Then again, closer to home, I get angry when I spend time on an Amazon review only to have it curtly negated. I have to remind myself that I write to read and to learn rather than to seek approval from negginators. When I find myself overly bothered, I post here on Goodreads which has the virtue of no negators. In the third part of the book, Irvine offers more broadly-based discussions of stoicism as a guide to life. He discusses the control rather than the repression of emotions such as grief, and strategies for living contentedly with others. He focuses on his own and on his reader's mortality by eloquently reminding of the inevitability of old age and death and of the stoic wisdom of loving life in its transience and letting go. In the fourth part of the book Irvine, describes again the metaphysical bases of ancient stoicism, which Irvine rejects by rephrasing stoic insights against a backdrop of evolutionary naturalism. Many readers may not be convinced by this attempt to jettison stoicism out of its original context. I think Irvine's point could be better made not by substituting one metaphysical view for another but rather by eliminating the need for a metaphysical "underpinning" for a philosophy of life altogether. The latter stoics showed little interest in teleology or metaphysics. In other words, stoicism stands of falls on its own merits and results as a philosophy and does not require a metaphysical support. This conclusion is consistent with much modern "technical" philosophy, as I understand it, which Irvine claims he no longer wishes to pursue. In the final part of the book, Irvine turns autobiographical and offers insights on what a stoic practice has meant to his own life. Throughout the book, Irvine approaches his subject with enthusiasm and with at times an almost missionary zeal. There are two parts to the story to be distinguished. The first is the value to a person of developing a philosophy of life. Convincing the reader of the value of a philosophy of life is Irvine's greater goal and, most of the time, it is the source of his enthusiasm and preaching to the reader. The second is the stoic philosophy that Irvine has adopted for himself. Here too, Irvine develops his stoic philosophy and tries to persuade his readers. But he recognizes that a single philosophy will not suit all temperaments, and that there are varied approaches to the good life. His approach has strong components of pragmatism as taught by William James. This is an excellent work of philosophy for non-specialists. A growing number of philosophers work to make their thoughts accessible, and Irvine is, perhaps, too harsh on the academic study of philosophy. The book has received substantial attention, with many thoughtful reviews and valuable criticisms.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Radiantflux

    30th book for 2019. A nice introduction to Stoic philosophy, for the general public, in the style of a self-help book written in an analytic philosophical style. This is not a good book if you are looking for an in depth analysis of the various Stoic philosophers and their writings. I think this would be best suited to those who are attracted in developing a "philosophy of life" and not sure how to go about it, and are interested in learning more abut Stoicism. It offers an excellent starting poi 30th book for 2019. A nice introduction to Stoic philosophy, for the general public, in the style of a self-help book written in an analytic philosophical style. This is not a good book if you are looking for an in depth analysis of the various Stoic philosophers and their writings. I think this would be best suited to those who are attracted in developing a "philosophy of life" and not sure how to go about it, and are interested in learning more abut Stoicism. It offers an excellent starting point exploring the original writings of the Stoic philosophers in great depth. 4-stars.

  13. 5 out of 5

    David

    This was a pretty good if brief introduction to the Stoic philosophy. What's notable about it is that the author, William Irvine, is not merely presenting historical information about the Stoics, or a primer on Stoicism for purely educational purposes, but actually advocating Stoicism as a philosophy of life with applicability to modern Westerners. He spends some time talking about the history of the Stoic schools and pointing out that Stoics really did spend time constructing "proofs" that the This was a pretty good if brief introduction to the Stoic philosophy. What's notable about it is that the author, William Irvine, is not merely presenting historical information about the Stoics, or a primer on Stoicism for purely educational purposes, but actually advocating Stoicism as a philosophy of life with applicability to modern Westerners. He spends some time talking about the history of the Stoic schools and pointing out that Stoics really did spend time constructing "proofs" that the Stoic philosophy was the most correct one for living a virtuous and fulfilling life. He then elaborates on their beliefs and techniques, and makes a case for being a practicing Stoic in the 21st century. Was it convincing? Well, while I didn't find this book to be particularly deep or transformational, it was interesting enough that I want to read more, and I do see a lot of appeal in Stoicism. One of the things the author points out is that Stoicism has a lot in common with Zen Buddhism - they prescribe a lot of the same behaviors and attitudes, though they get there from different directions. Since I've also had an interest in Zen, this clicked with me, and since the author rejected Zen for the same reason I did - he's too analytical and sitting for hours trying to "empty your mind" would be painfully tedious for people like us - the Stoic approach has promise. Of course, one problem with the Stoics is their philosophy is predicated on what man's "purpose" is, with that purpose presumably declared by our creator, Zeus. You can easily transfer this to God (Stoicism is pretty compatible with Christianity), but it requires a bit more rationalizing to achieve an evolutionary purpose applicable to Stoicism for us atheists and agnostics. So what did the Stoics believe and what should you do as a Stoic? Irvine spends a lot of time trying to preemptively rebut misconceptions about the Stoics - e.g., that they were joyless, unemotional, believed in forsaking pleasure and suppressing grief, etc. In fact, the Stoics did believe in enjoying life, and they did not deny emotion. They taught that one should not allow one's emotions to control you, and that the seeking (or enjoyment) of pleasure should not be your primary purpose in life nor your chief objective, only a side benefit of living a virtuous life. And that you might not enjoy any such side benefits - if you lived a virtuous life, you might wind up miserable because that's fate, and if that happens, you should suck it up and keep going. The last part may not be particularly encouraging, but I actually liked it because as the author points out, it flies in the face of a lot of modern psychology. Irvine has some particularly harsh criticisms for "grief counseling," claiming that studies have shown that getting counseled for grief actually prolongs one's grief, whereas taking a Stoic approach helps you get over it more quickly. That can sound kind of cold, since the Stoic message is basically "Yes, it sucks that your child died, but she's dead now and you can't change it, so move on." But really, how does it benefit someone to prolong their grief over unchangeable events? Mastery of Stoicism doesn't mean you don't grieve over a dead child - it means you grieve, accept that it happened, and move on. More importantly, the Stoic philosophy encourages people to appreciate what they have now - e.g., your living child - and take nothing for granted, because you never know when it could be taken from you. Am I actually convinced that Stoicism is for me? Well, like I said, based on this book, I am willing to give it a try. At the same time, the book was a very cursory introduction and while it talked a little bit about Stoic techniques (such as "negative visualization" - imagining that the things you have have been taken away, or that your life sucks more than it does) it doesn't really provide much in the way of useful instruction. Back in Greco-Roman days, there were actual Stoic schools to teach these things, but Stoic schools today are kind of hard to find. So I guess I will have to look for more books on the subject. But whether you are interested in trying out Stoicism for yourself or not, this book is a decent entry point.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Neil White

    As much as I wanted to like this book, I'm forced to give it little more than a resounding "meh" with a B+ for effort. As much as I enjoy the subject matter, and appreciated the author's attempt to bring an ancient philosophy in line with the present day (which he does do with success), the writing itself feels stuck somewhere between a soft, feel-good self-help title that helps one live their life to the fullest, and a serious academic study of an influential philosophy. It seems Irvine couldn' As much as I wanted to like this book, I'm forced to give it little more than a resounding "meh" with a B+ for effort. As much as I enjoy the subject matter, and appreciated the author's attempt to bring an ancient philosophy in line with the present day (which he does do with success), the writing itself feels stuck somewhere between a soft, feel-good self-help title that helps one live their life to the fullest, and a serious academic study of an influential philosophy. It seems Irvine couldn't quite figure out which one it should be, and it tends to gravitate to varying degrees between the too, but never quite getting all the way to either. It has the feel of a very intellectual man trying very hard to be at the same time more enthusiastic and less academic than he's naturally inclined to be. Still, there's value to be found here, and if anything I'm tempted to dust off and re-read Seneca and Marcus Aurelius.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Peter Neiger

    Occasionally a book enters your life at the perfect time. For me, this book falls in that category. I have found I have a lot of Stoic tendencies, I am what the author calls a "congenital stoic". I loved this book, it discussed a lot of practical advice to attain tranquility for those of us inclined to that. If you have an interest in Stoicism, or really any philosophy of life this is worth a read Occasionally a book enters your life at the perfect time. For me, this book falls in that category. I have found I have a lot of Stoic tendencies, I am what the author calls a "congenital stoic". I loved this book, it discussed a lot of practical advice to attain tranquility for those of us inclined to that. If you have an interest in Stoicism, or really any philosophy of life this is worth a read

  16. 4 out of 5

    Scriptor Ignotus

    This book is essentially a “pitch” for adopting Stoicism—or a certain modernized iteration of Stoicism—as one’s philosophy of life. It includes a brief survey of the history of Stoicism, a list of psychological techniques which Stoics use to achieve and maintain tranquility (which Irvine understands to be the most fundamental Stoic aspiration), advice plucked from the works of Epictetus, Seneca, Musonius Rufus, and Marcus Aurelius on navigating some of life’s most exacting challenges: grief, ang This book is essentially a “pitch” for adopting Stoicism—or a certain modernized iteration of Stoicism—as one’s philosophy of life. It includes a brief survey of the history of Stoicism, a list of psychological techniques which Stoics use to achieve and maintain tranquility (which Irvine understands to be the most fundamental Stoic aspiration), advice plucked from the works of Epictetus, Seneca, Musonius Rufus, and Marcus Aurelius on navigating some of life’s most exacting challenges: grief, anger, alienation, old age, death, and the like; and Irvine’s own defense of the continued value and relevance of Stoic ideals. The suggestions are practical and actionable, but hardly informative to those who have already read any of the great Stoic writers. Those who have done so will not be surprised by many of the suggestions of this book: that our lives should be simple, but not ascetic in the extreme, as those of the Cynics were; that we should enjoy the pleasures of life in moderation while keeping ourselves mentally prepared to do without them; that we should use reason to tame our emotion, even if we can’t expect to avoid reflexive emotional reactions to the unexpected; that we should carefully distinguish between the things we can control and the things we can’t control, so as to make ourselves the masters of our own contentment rather than hostages to fortune. It’s good stuff, though; and perhaps it’s helpful to have the teachings of the great Stoics distilled and synthesized in one accessible volume. If anything, Irvine has not convinced me to become a Stoic, but rather that I already am one. I think I’ll perm my hair to look like Marcus Aurelius and order a toga off of Amazon.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ahmad Abugosh

    I loved this book! It's not often that we think about how we live, and make an active effort to lead a "good life" outside of religious indoctrination. Some of the things I started implementing in my life are: 1) Negative visualization. By thinking about how things can go bad in your life, you'll appreciate the moments when they are not. 2) Projective visualization, to imagine what you would do if this same thing happened to someone else. This allows you to step outside of your own ego. 3) Trichot I loved this book! It's not often that we think about how we live, and make an active effort to lead a "good life" outside of religious indoctrination. Some of the things I started implementing in my life are: 1) Negative visualization. By thinking about how things can go bad in your life, you'll appreciate the moments when they are not. 2) Projective visualization, to imagine what you would do if this same thing happened to someone else. This allows you to step outside of your own ego. 3) Trichotomy of concerns a) things you have complete control over b) things you have no control over c) things you have partial control over. Here it is important to internalize your goals, because you can accomplish those and make them to be 100% in your control, and if you have no control over it, then you don't have to give it a second thought. The hard part of this is determining what you have control over and what you don't

  18. 5 out of 5

    Micole

    Very accessibly written, easy to apply guide to stoicism Appreciate what you have (negative visualization) Focus on what you can control (dichotomy/trichotomy of control) and do not concern yourself with things that are actually irrelevant (who invited you where, who complimented or insulted you) Ask yourself, are you living by your values, not are you succeeding by someone else's (misguided) measures of success (wealth, material things, status symbols) Practice poverty, discomfort, challenge... T Very accessibly written, easy to apply guide to stoicism Appreciate what you have (negative visualization) Focus on what you can control (dichotomy/trichotomy of control) and do not concern yourself with things that are actually irrelevant (who invited you where, who complimented or insulted you) Ask yourself, are you living by your values, not are you succeeding by someone else's (misguided) measures of success (wealth, material things, status symbols) Practice poverty, discomfort, challenge... To appreciate what you have, what you had and lost, and/or be better prepared for losing it - it's a blessing you ever had it! (Barefoot, no jacket, meager food) Be your own stoic observer- at the end of the day ask yourself "which vices did I overcome today? Where did I succeed to live by my values, where did I fail"

  19. 5 out of 5

    Shane Parrish

    Published ten years ago, this small guide to practicing Stoicism in the modern world remains popular and relevant as stoicism continues to proliferate across the personal development space. We often see it appear on recommended reading lists as the perfect book to read alongside the original works of Stoicism from the ancient world. Irvine's guide is easy and enjoyable to read. It provides a solid introduction to the philosophy and then breaks down each of the tenets and explains how they can be Published ten years ago, this small guide to practicing Stoicism in the modern world remains popular and relevant as stoicism continues to proliferate across the personal development space. We often see it appear on recommended reading lists as the perfect book to read alongside the original works of Stoicism from the ancient world. Irvine's guide is easy and enjoyable to read. It provides a solid introduction to the philosophy and then breaks down each of the tenets and explains how they can be applied in our daily lives. If you are new to Stoicism or remain unconvinced after reading the primary sources, this book might be useful.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Michael Siliski

    Recommended for anyone interested in a discussion about how to live well. A Guide to the Good Life is a modern rehabilitation of ancient Stoic philosophy. It is at once a history and survey of Stoic philosophy and an attempt to adapt it to modern times, trying to answer the question, “How should I live?” I read it when it was first published in 2009 and recently went back to see if it still resonates with me today. I was pleasantly surprised by how much of Stoicism seems a matter of course to me Recommended for anyone interested in a discussion about how to live well. A Guide to the Good Life is a modern rehabilitation of ancient Stoic philosophy. It is at once a history and survey of Stoic philosophy and an attempt to adapt it to modern times, trying to answer the question, “How should I live?” I read it when it was first published in 2009 and recently went back to see if it still resonates with me today. I was pleasantly surprised by how much of Stoicism seems a matter of course to me a decade later. Irvine, a professor of philosophy, starts with the premise that to know how to live, we must first identify our grand goal of living—what do we want out of life? Only then we can devise a strategy for attaining it. Otherwise, we won’t have a coherent philosophy of life, and we will be at risk of “misliving”—wasting our one chance at living. This is undoubtedly correct, although determining the goal of living is devilishly hard. I’ve read plenty of philosophy, and I’ve not yet met a convincing account of the meaning of life. You won’t find that here, either. However, if you accept that the Stoics’ goals are worth pursuing, you may find some valuable strategies to help achieve them, as well as methods that may change your outlook rather profoundly. The Stoic school of philosophy was founded in Athens around 300 BC by Zeno of Citium, amid an explosion of interest in philosophy that came in the wake of Socrates’ death. Many schools of philosophy flourished at the time, and parents would send their children to them to learn to live well and acquire the skills of persuasion. The goal of the Greek Stoics was to live virtuously—“in accordance with nature,” as a human being is designed to live. Their philosophy put ethics first but had a strong logical component, as they believed that man’s distinguishing feature is his rationality. A century or so later, Stoicism was exported to Rome, where its followers included the likes of Seneca, Cato the Younger, and the emperor Marcus Aurelius. Roman Stoicism evolved the philosophy to focus on the attainment of tranquility, a psychological state marked by the absence of negative emotions, such as grief, anger, and anxiety, and the presence of positive emotions, such as joy. A Guide to the Good Life focuses on Roman Stoicism and the pursuit of tranquility. “Learn how to feel joy” -Seneca Note that Stoicism is not an exercise in the repression of emotion, and the Stoics were not stoical in the modern sense (not showing feeling). Irvine emphasizes that the term “joyful Stoic” is not an oxymoron. To attain tranquility, the Stoics employed a set of practices which translate readily to modern life. They are centered on appreciating what we have and letting go of the unattainable: * To appreciate what we have, the Stoics practice negative visualization, contemplating all the bad things that could happen (but haven’t), as well as self-denial, periodically inflicting discomfort on ourselves. These techniques help us overcome our jadedness, want less, and revitalize our capacity for joy. * To let go of what we cannot have, the Stoics attempt to separate those things we can control from those we can’t, so as to curb our tendency to worry uselessly. “Some things are up to us, and some things are not up to us,” wrote Epictetus. An important case of this is fatalism towards the past: accepting that what has already happened cannot be changed, rather than spending our days wishing our circumstances were different. (I have found “it is what it is” a useful mantra.) The Stoics also practiced self-reflection, meditating on their actions and motives in order to learn from their mistakes and success—to be better Stoics. It’s remarkable how little the concerns of humans today differ from those of people who lived 2000 years ago. The Stoics were vigorously engaged in social and civic life, and they thought that the primary concern of philosophy should be the art of living. They taught in their school how to respond to insults, how to deal with incompetent servants, how to deal with an angry brother, and how to deal with the loss of a loved one. Not all that much has changed in the dynamics or psychology of these situations. As an introduction to Stoic philosophy, as well as a practical guide to its application in modern life, a Guide to the Good Life is indispensable. Irvine does a good job of adapting an ancient philosophy to modern life, presenting the history while updating it to make it feel relevant. Where he ventures into conjecture or his own personal take, he is clear. The book could be a bit tighter overall, and I wasn’t much captured by the specific bits of Stoic advice in the third and fourth parts, but perhaps this is because I’ve internalized so much of the core philosophy since I read the book a decade ago. “To have whatsoever he wishes is in no man’s power; it is in his power not to wish for what he has not, but cheerfully to employ what comes to him.” -Seneca Personally, the Stoic approach appeals to me for much the same reason it appeals to Irvine: it puts our analytical nature to work, leaning into our faculty of reason. Other schools, like Zen Buddhism, also identify desire as a root cause of unhappiness, but their methods are very different. Stoicism is not about emptying the mind, but rather applying the mind to achieve our goals. The Stoic methods are incomplete to my mind—there are complementary practices I lean on, such as Jeff Bezos’s Regret Minimization Framework, and there is much left unsaid here about how to actually approach the many moments of potential joy in your life. Still, the Stoic methods described here are powerful, and I suspect many people would be happier if they incorporated them into their lives in some way. From https://medium.com/@msiliski/a-guide-...

  21. 4 out of 5

    C. Varn

    Dr. Irvine presents Stoicism in its own context from the Roman period (which is the one where the ethics are more clearly developed, although it doesn't deal with the virtue and proto-physics of the Greek Stoics) and then puts it in a modern psychologized and evolutionary context. First, this book is wonderfully layman friendly. He doesn't use the exact Greek and Roman terms. He doesn't discuss apatheia, prohairesis, and sunkatathesis. Dr. Irvine discusses tranquility, virtue, and reason. Dr. Irv Dr. Irvine presents Stoicism in its own context from the Roman period (which is the one where the ethics are more clearly developed, although it doesn't deal with the virtue and proto-physics of the Greek Stoics) and then puts it in a modern psychologized and evolutionary context. First, this book is wonderfully layman friendly. He doesn't use the exact Greek and Roman terms. He doesn't discuss apatheia, prohairesis, and sunkatathesis. Dr. Irvine discusses tranquility, virtue, and reason. Dr. Irvine also uses some sound psychology in talking about hedonic adaption and how it leads to anhedonia--or, in short, how the more desires you have, the more you fullfill them, the less the things you lusted over make you happy. The there are a good fifty pages devoted to putting Stoicism in its context, including all the Zeus-driven bits that alienate atheists and agnostics like me. Dr. Irvine, however, makes a fairly convincing polemic that Stoic philosophy is perfectly consistent with an evolutionary worldview and nontheistic elements. The majority of the book is devoted to various psychological techniques that are designed to head off hedonic adaption. Or, as I like to call, "how to shoot the alcoholic, nymphomaniac, shopping-addicted inner-voice in the head." These include fatalism in regards to the past and present, negative visualization, voluntary discomfort, and delaying gratification. Irvine develops these from the writings of Seneca the Younger, Marcus Aerilius, and Epictetus. Dr. Irvine also puts these in a modern context and admits the difficulties of many of the techniques in modern culture. If there are explicit flaws in the book, it could be that it is too layman-driven for people already somewhat familar with Classical philosophy and doesn't go into what the Stoics (particularly the Greek varieties) thought about politics and virtue. In fact, the Greek Stoics are largely ignored after the historical chapters in the beginning of the book. These faults will annoy people with my background, but I don't think we are the primary audience for this book. I think if you want to take internal moral philosophy more seriously and perhaps attempt to slow hedonic adaption, this is a good book to start with. Dr. Irvine may not convince you to become a full blown Stoic, but he will have you take the classical philosophers of lifestyles much more seriously. It also gets a rationalist framework for ethics--including how to drive your own mind--in a way that does not demand either an explicit political OR theological point of view.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Milan

    Stoic philosophy was one of the most admired philosophies of the ancient Roman period, but it is mostly not followed now because it is considered too tough to follow in modern times. A Guide to the Good Life by William B. Irvine explains the stoic philosophy in such a way which makes it meaningful in the 21st century and dispels with a lot of myths associated with it. A few things that I liked: • Everyone needs a philosophy of life; otherwise the life is wasted in unnecessary pursuits. • We should Stoic philosophy was one of the most admired philosophies of the ancient Roman period, but it is mostly not followed now because it is considered too tough to follow in modern times. A Guide to the Good Life by William B. Irvine explains the stoic philosophy in such a way which makes it meaningful in the 21st century and dispels with a lot of myths associated with it. A few things that I liked: • Everyone needs a philosophy of life; otherwise the life is wasted in unnecessary pursuits. • We should periodically meditate on the events of our daily living and how we responded to these events. • For a Stoic, attaining tranquility should be the main objective • Enjoy good things but don’t get attached to them • To be virtuous is to live as we should live according to our nature • Desire what you already have rather than lusting after things which make you miserable. • Stoics recommended that we spend time imagining that we have lost the things we value by negative visualization, so that we are prepared for the worst. • While most people seek to gain contentment by changing the world around them, we can easily gain contentment by changing our desires. • There are things over which we have complete control, things over which we have no control at all, and things over which we have some but not complete control. • A Stoic should engage in acts of voluntary discomfort and forgo some opportunities to experience pleasure. • The Stoics recommend that we prepare for our dealings with other people before we have to deal with them. • It is foolish for us to worry about what other people think of us. • When we find ourselves irritated by someone’s shortcomings, we should pause to reflect on our own shortcomings. • Counter insults with humor. • When angry we should take steps to ‘turn all [anger’s] indications into their opposites.’

  23. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    I found this book rather helpful and enjoyable to read. It's a good combination of the theoretical and practical. Earlier this year, I had been reading-up on Buddhism and, before that, on Taoism; I can see a pretty fair amount of overlap with Stoicism as it was outlined here...it feels like a good midpoint between the two. And where Stoicism does diverge a bit, I'd say that is an even better fit for me. For instance, I have been doing some form of negative visualization my whole adult life, and I found this book rather helpful and enjoyable to read. It's a good combination of the theoretical and practical. Earlier this year, I had been reading-up on Buddhism and, before that, on Taoism; I can see a pretty fair amount of overlap with Stoicism as it was outlined here...it feels like a good midpoint between the two. And where Stoicism does diverge a bit, I'd say that is an even better fit for me. For instance, I have been doing some form of negative visualization my whole adult life, and I used to think that this natural tendency of mine was just me being a bit of a downer. However, to see the technique laid out here, with its benefits described, is both refreshing and relieving. I'd recommend this book to anyone who is looking for more internal tranquility in their life.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    Turns out I'm already a stoic. The point is that you need a governing philosophy for your life. This is as useful as they come--you can be a stoic regardless of your religious inclination. It's just a wise and rational way to deal with pain and uncertainty. It's also about expectations and learning to find joy without having to indulge your baser instincts. Turns out I'm already a stoic. The point is that you need a governing philosophy for your life. This is as useful as they come--you can be a stoic regardless of your religious inclination. It's just a wise and rational way to deal with pain and uncertainty. It's also about expectations and learning to find joy without having to indulge your baser instincts.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Overbooked ✎

    Stoicism is a discipline, adopted by ancient Greeks and Roman philosophers, as a path to achieve tranquillity or peace of mind. The idea of a simplified life as philosophy of life, like the Stoics proposed, appeals to me, so I was very interested in reading this book. After a brief history of the movement and its major exponents (Seneca, Epictetus, Musonius, Marcus Aurelius), the author interprets the stoic teachings turning them into suggestions to be applied to modern lives. Although it gives s Stoicism is a discipline, adopted by ancient Greeks and Roman philosophers, as a path to achieve tranquillity or peace of mind. The idea of a simplified life as philosophy of life, like the Stoics proposed, appeals to me, so I was very interested in reading this book. After a brief history of the movement and its major exponents (Seneca, Epictetus, Musonius, Marcus Aurelius), the author interprets the stoic teachings turning them into suggestions to be applied to modern lives. Although it gives some good advice (e.g. dealing with insults and anger), I couldn’t agree on a few points that the books makes, e.g.self-denial. Given that negative visualization would bring me more anxiety rather than solace, I’m probably not a good Stoic candidate. My main disappointment though, was with the author’s presentation of the topic, too simplistic and superficial for me. The stoic philosophy is boiled down to a few basic principles (negative visualization, trichotomy of control i.e. concerning oneselves with only things that one has control over, goal internalisation, avoidance of negative emotions, voluntary discomfort as a form of immunization and character building). From what I recollect of lessons by my philosophy teacher in high school, I have a strong suspicion that Stoicism is more complex than that. Not the simulating read I was hoping for. 2.5 stars Fav. Quote: my advice to those seeking a philosophy of life parallels my advice to those seeking a mate. They should realize that which mate is best for them depends on their personality and circumstances. This means that no one is the ideal mate for everyone and that some people are a suitable mate for no one at all. Furthermore, they should realize that for the vast majority of people, life with a less than perfect mate is better than life with no mate at all.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Paul Toth

    Lucky for me, some years back I stumbled into Diogenes, who refused to write prescriptions but referred me to the Stoics and Cynics. Slowly, I learned how to better bear the onslaught of life's unnecessary absurdity and how to remember how, despite myself and you. If my reasoning seems circular, so's the earth. Irvine renders Stoicism a relevant and applicable philosophy of life, especially for those lacking the time and inclination to read the source material. I don't pick bones, but I will not Lucky for me, some years back I stumbled into Diogenes, who refused to write prescriptions but referred me to the Stoics and Cynics. Slowly, I learned how to better bear the onslaught of life's unnecessary absurdity and how to remember how, despite myself and you. If my reasoning seems circular, so's the earth. Irvine renders Stoicism a relevant and applicable philosophy of life, especially for those lacking the time and inclination to read the source material. I don't pick bones, but I will note Stein's tendency to overstate, exaggerate and dismiss the sum total of 20th century philosophy and psychology as if the first consisted solely of deconstructionism and the second nothing but fuzzy-wuzzy warm-sweatered therapists. But his best perceptions prove acute and memorable, as when he likens controlling anxiety to "butterfly collecting." What remains must must be preserved.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jakub

    Honestly, a good book about how to have a good life. Some if not most of the ideas/techniques i'm trying to incorporate in my everyday life. I didn't even know that someone is coining them, naming and trying to put them to use as "stoic joy". I agree on what it's in the book, that negative visualisation, how to react to criticism etc. If you looking for something that can provide guidance or even a template of what we can do to have a better life, this book might be for you. keep in mind that not Honestly, a good book about how to have a good life. Some if not most of the ideas/techniques i'm trying to incorporate in my everyday life. I didn't even know that someone is coining them, naming and trying to put them to use as "stoic joy". I agree on what it's in the book, that negative visualisation, how to react to criticism etc. If you looking for something that can provide guidance or even a template of what we can do to have a better life, this book might be for you. keep in mind that not everything is to to be taken one to one. do what's work for you.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Nick Klagge

    (tl;dr--nice book, Stoicism is awesome) This was a very enjoyable and accessible book on Stoicism. The author describes himself as a "congenital Stoic," i.e. one whose mind is naturally in accordance with many aspects of Stoic philosophy, and I think I could be described as the same (thus my interest in reading this). For anyone who is interested, I also highly recommend some of the primary sources: the "Handbook" of Epictetus and the "Meditations" of Marcus Aurelius. They are very accessible too (tl;dr--nice book, Stoicism is awesome) This was a very enjoyable and accessible book on Stoicism. The author describes himself as a "congenital Stoic," i.e. one whose mind is naturally in accordance with many aspects of Stoic philosophy, and I think I could be described as the same (thus my interest in reading this). For anyone who is interested, I also highly recommend some of the primary sources: the "Handbook" of Epictetus and the "Meditations" of Marcus Aurelius. They are very accessible too. (After reading this book, I know I need to read some of Seneca as well.) In addition to giving a broad overview of the major Roman Stoics and the tenets of their philosophy, Irvine talks about some Stoic practices you can do. Some of these are things I've done before, and others I've only recently tried, but in general I think they are quite useful. To use some modern terminology, they seem to me to fall under the general category of avoiding hedonic adaptation. The Romans did not have "happiness economics," but they were certainly aware of this tendency in people, and its negative effects on our lives. So for example, Irvine talks about practicing regular minor deprivations, which has the positive effect of making us appreciate things more when we do have them, and also of getting us more comfortable with deprivation (which is often unavoidable). In my own life, I practice a very basic form of this: I alternate "beer nights" and "dessert nights," meaning that on a normal day, I may have a beer (or less often wine) with dinner or I may have dessert, but not both. (I don't always have either, and I'll occasionally break this rule for a special dinner out.) It's an almost absurdly minor deprivation, but I have found that it greatly enhances my appreciation of each--I have the minor excitement of "beer night!" or "dessert night!" most nights. Similarly, I think that one of the things I enjoy about backpacking is the way it entails temporary enforced deprivation of things we usually take for granted. When you come back to the "real world," you really appreciate these things! (Bill Bryson is really funny writing about this phenomenon in "A Walk In The Woods.") Another practice Irvine talks about is "negative visualization," which means occasionally imagining not having some of the good things in life that we take for granted. This can feel a little forced or silly sometimes, but I have found it to be quite effective in certain cases. The main example is a practice I read from David Cain of the "Raptitude" blog, which is: when you are in a normal situation, imagine that you have been dead or in some kind of limbo (I always picture the underworld from "The Amber Spyglass"), and that you have been temporarily granted a short time back in the world of the living. Try it some time and see what you think. Irvine also spends some time writing about why Stoicism might be effective (in achieving its goal of increasing tranquility). The Roman Stoics thought that the gods had given man reason as his distinguishing characteristic; therefore, allowing our reason to rule was the best way of living in accordance with nature and "being the best we can be." Irvine wants to give his own description of why it is effective, without drawing on any religious beliefs. He gives an "evolutionary psychology" explanation that is closely linked to the ideas in "The Selfish Gene." Humans are "wired" with the emotional reactions that are most conducive to reproductive success, but these are not necessarily--in fact not at all--most conducive to human happiness. These include the fact that dissatisfaction tends to overtake temporary satisfaction (leading us to pursue more resources and more potential mates), and the preoccupation with what others think of us. Humans can overcome these evolutionarily coded triggers through the application of our reason and regular practice. Ironically, says Irvine, his explanation is in a sense exactly the opposite of the classical explanation--in his reading, we must overcome our nature rather than live in accordance with it. I think there is some truth in Irvine's description, but I am also somewhat skeptical of it, since ev-psych explanations for phenomena can often be "just-so stories." Specifically, I am not convinced that genetics are the whole story, or even the main story. From my fairly minimal knowledge of "primitive" societies (mostly from non-authoritative sources: "Ishmael," "Debt," "Mutual Aid"), they are not actually that stressful of places to live for the most part--a lot of leisure with fairly rare stressful periods. The differences in observed social behavior between bonobos and common chimpanzees (our two closest cousins) also call into question any "pure" evolutionary explanation. Briefly, my feeling is that Irvine does not give enough "credit" to modern consumer society, which tends to play upon and accentuate these particular human instincts, because they are profit-generators. I wonder whether similar societal forces were at play in the Roman Empire; it certainly seems plausible. But whatever the reason, I feel that Stoic thought and exercises are extremely insightful. Irvine also discusses the general idea of a "philosophy of life," of which Stoicism is an example, but also rival schools such as Epicureanism or other traditions such as Buddhism. He laments how selecting a philosophy of life is not seen as an important personal endeavor in our culture as it was (for the upper classes) in classical Greece and Rome, which, inter alia, has deeply changed the role of philosophy in culture. He sees it as important to adopt a philosophy of life, because otherwise there is a risk that you will come to the end of your life and feel unhappy with how you have conducted yourself. I would add that in our culture, if you don't make a point of doing this, your philosophy of life will probably end up being some version of "enlightened hedonism," which is again what is most agreeable to consumer capitalism. Religions also may play this role, but in my view, they are so tied to cultures as to make conscious individual choice quite rare--and they also come with many aspects that are not strictly philosophy-of-life. I thought this was a very interesting point, and I agree that it's lamentable. A final note--Irvine has a related blog that I've started following: 21stcenturystoic.org.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    This book is a great introduction to the basic ideas of Stoic philosophy - not "stoic" in the common meaning of the word, but the ideas and practices of the Greek and Roman Stoic philosophers. Professor Irvine's wonderful book achieves a number of great things. First, he clarifies what Stoic philosophy is and isn't. But just as importantly, he does so by bringing the stoic philosophers to life for the reader. In doing so, he encourages the reader to go beyond his book and dive into the original This book is a great introduction to the basic ideas of Stoic philosophy - not "stoic" in the common meaning of the word, but the ideas and practices of the Greek and Roman Stoic philosophers. Professor Irvine's wonderful book achieves a number of great things. First, he clarifies what Stoic philosophy is and isn't. But just as importantly, he does so by bringing the stoic philosophers to life for the reader. In doing so, he encourages the reader to go beyond his book and dive into the original writings in greater depth, something that he convinced me to do, and I haven't regretted it one bit. That would be enough for five stars, in my opinion; but Professor Irvine actually is something of a Stoic philosopher himself. So he actually goes beyond the original texts and examines the core ideas of Stoicism in a modern context. Fortunately, he does this in the same readable style, so rather than getting bogged down in an academic treatise, I found myself "thinking out loud" along with him. If you think that philosophy should give a person a different perspective to examine his/her life, and inspire an individual to put philosophical ideas into practice in everyday life, you will most likely enjoy this book very much.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Leila

    Definitely a good introductory book on Stoicism for beginners. Not only does Irvine give good advice and tips on how to implement Stoicism at any stage of life (when dealing with insults, grief, death and so on) but he also gives very useful background information on The Stoic School from its founding by Zeno of Citium to its decline in the Roman times of Marcus Aurelius. I initially wanted to read this book solely for the history part but after receiving it as a gift for my birthday and actuall Definitely a good introductory book on Stoicism for beginners. Not only does Irvine give good advice and tips on how to implement Stoicism at any stage of life (when dealing with insults, grief, death and so on) but he also gives very useful background information on The Stoic School from its founding by Zeno of Citium to its decline in the Roman times of Marcus Aurelius. I initially wanted to read this book solely for the history part but after receiving it as a gift for my birthday and actually reading it I felt like the Stoic lifestyle really resonated with me. Then I found myself spending a month wondering if I'm dealing with negative emotions, superficial desires and grief the right way. I think Irvine's impactful words have changed my life a tiny little bit by at least helping me identify how I really want to live and nudging me in the appropriate direction. I know the way to Stoicism is long and fraught with difficulties but I've at least made my first step.

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