A Guide to the Good Life
by William B. Irvine
The best introduction on Stoicism I’ve read. Well structured, objective, and with good background information on the most important characters in Stoic history. Together with the works of Ryan Holiday, this book makes Stoicism accessible to more people.
These are my informal notes from A Guide to the Good Life. It contains a mix of key highlights as well as my own thoughts and lessons.
- The primary reason to study Stoicism is so we can put it into practice. And the primary goal of Stoicism is to maintain tranquility.
- The tranquility the Stoic sought is not the kind that might be brought on by ingestion of a tranquilizer, it is not a zombie-like state. It is instead a state marked by the absence of negative emotions. When practicing Stoicism you have to become a more thoughtful observer of your own life.
- There are costs associated with not having a philosophy of life.
- We need a technique for creating in ourselves a desire for the things we already have.
- The easiest way to happiness is to learn how to want the things you already have. The trick is to put this knowledge into practice in your life.
- While enjoying companionship of loved ones, periodically stop to reflect on the possibility that this enjoyment will come to an end.
- Periodically pause to reflect on the fact that you will not live forever and this day could be your last.
- Negative visualization is a wonderful way to regain our appreciation of life and with it our capacity for joy.
- There is a difference between contemplating something bad happening and worrying about it. Contemplation is an intellectual exercise, which is possible to conduct without affecting emotions.
- Your primary desire should be your desire not to be frustrated by forming desires you won’t be able to fulfill.
- Practice goal internalization, develop the ability not to look beyond your internalized goals. Learn to welcome whatever falls on your plate.
- Stoic philosophy, while teaching us to be satisfied with whatever we got, also counsels us to strive to become better people — to become virtuous.
- Think of voluntary discomfort as a kind of vaccine. By periodically practicing poverty, hunger, and cold it helps harden yourself against blows that may fall on you in the future.
- Voluntary discomfort will also be beneficial to appreciate what we already have. By going without it for some time, we would value it more when we get it back.
- In a good marriage, two people will try to outdo each other in the care they show for each other.
- Another person cannot do you harm unless you wish it. You will only be harmed at that time which you take yourself to be harmed.
- Use humor to deflect insults.
- “Does things that happen to me help or harm me?” It all depends on your values. And your values are things which you have complete control over.
- Refusing to respond to insults is, paradoxically, one of the most effective responses possible.
- Be consistent in your indifference to social status. Be dismissive of both approval and disapproval of other people. Being indifferent to other people’s opinions of you will improve the quality of your life.
- Embrace psychological discomfort. That’s where growth lies. Do things that scare you.
- See yourself as an opponent in a kind of game. Your “other self” is on evolutionary autopilot. Your job is to change this default.
- It’s a delight in simply being able to participate in life itself.