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

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

by William B. Irvine

Stoic principles have the power to transform every area of your life. A Guide To The Good Life rediscovers this powerful philosophy and distills it into simple, easy-to-understand advice you can apply in your daily life. By changing your outlook on life, reconsidering your goals, and letting go of the things you can’t control, you can find true joy every single day.

Summary Notes

Use Negative Visualization to Increase Gratitude

“Winning a lottery typically allows someone to live the life of his dreams. It turns out, though, that after an initial period of exhilaration, lottery winners end up about as happy as they previously were”

Hedonistic adaptation is a concept that describes how our attitude towards the things we desire changes. When we want something in life, like a new job or TV, we work hard to get it. When we achieve that goal for the first time, we feel great and happy about it. But as we become accustomed to having that thing over time, we tend to desire it less.

At this point, we start wanting something new, and the cycle continues. This puts us on a ‘satisfaction treadmill’ where we constantly look for the next thing to pursue, hoping this could satisfy us. However, we just end up always being unfulfilled with what we have.

Stoic philosophy teaches that we should spend time visualizing our life as if we have lost everything we have. This will make us feel grateful for and satisfied with what we already have, enabling us to get off that satisfaction treadmill.

Actions to take

Use Projective Visualization to Let Go

“Besides imagining that the bad things that happened to others happen to us, we can imagine that the bad things that happen to us happened instead to others.”

We tend to react completely differently when bad things happen to others than they happen to us. For example, if you dropped a glass of water on the floor and it broke, you are likely to be frustrated and angry with yourself. But if you saw a friend or loved one drop and break a glass, you’d probably tell them that it doesn’t matter. After all, it’s just a glass, so there is no need to get upset about it.

Projective visualization is a technique that allows you to shift your perspective during negative situations and see them as if they were happening to someone else. This makes it much easier to be objective and avoid getting upset or angry.

Actions to take

On Becoming Invincible

“If what you seek is contentment, it is better and easier to change yourself and what you want than it is to change the world around you.”

There are some things in life over which we have complete control and others over which we have no control. Even in situations that we can influence in some way, there will be elements we cannot control.

When we focus on the things we cannot control, we tend to become unhappy. But we will be much happier if we focus on the things we have complete control over, usually internal things, and let go of the things we can’t control.

Our actions, values, opinions, goals we set for ourselves, and character are all things we have complete control over. In most situations, we may find ourselves having some but not full control over them. Take advancing your career, for example. While you can get an education and practice for your interview, being accepted at the job partly depends on the hiring manager’s decision.

In these situations, the key is to change the way you set goals so you can focus on internal things you can control. For example, instead of saying, “I will get the job,” say, “I will do my best to make myself qualified and give an excellent interview!” Achieving that goal is completely in your control, whether you get the job or not.

Changing your goals in this way ensures that you will never fail and will always be satisfied.

Actions to take

Embrace Fatalism

“We should keep firmly in mind that we are merely actors in a play written by someone else—more precisely, the Fates.”

Stoics teach that nobody has control over the things that happen to them. Events will continue to unfold outside of your control, and the only thing you can do is react to them. Essentially, you are assigned a role in the play by fate, and it’s up to you to play it. We will be much happier if we stop resisting our roles and embrace our fate, accepting life as it happens.

This doctrine primarily refers to past events because dwelling on the past creates unnecessary suffering. If we want to be happier, we must learn to accept that we cannot change our past and instead begin focusing on the present.

It is equally important to embrace fate in the present moment instead of visualizing a more positive outcome. It is already too late to act to change what is happening now, so we must accept it. This concept is incredibly important in our day-to-day lives, especially in negative situations.

Actions to take

Practice Self-Denial

“By practicing Stoic self-denial techniques over a long period, Stoics can transform themselves into individuals remarkable for their courage and self-control.”

Self-denial is an excellent technique to prepare us for hardships and be more appreciative of the things we have. If you deliberately avoid eating, even though you are hungry, for example, the meal will taste so much nicer. Exposing yourself to discomfort also means that you will be better prepared to deal with it in the future.

Avoiding pleasurable experiences is another way to practice self-denial. If you want to eat unhealthy food, for example, refraining will stop you from getting the pleasure you would normally experience. However, you will gain another kind of pleasure because you will feel good about making a healthy choice. In your daily life, you should look for opportunities for self-denial.

Actions to take

Practice Stoic Meditation

“During his meditations, a Zen Buddhist might sit for hours with his mind as empty as he can make it. A Stoic’s mind, in contrast, will be quite active during a bedtime meditation.”

When you think of meditation, you probably picture sitting with your eyes closed, emptying your mind of thoughts. Stoic meditation is the complete opposite. It is a practice designed to help you assess your behavior and make corrections where necessary.

This involves thinking about your interactions with people and situations you have experienced during the day. You must think about how you reacted to the situation and whether you could have done anything better and differently.

For example, if somebody insulted you, did you take it to heart and get angry, or did you remember that you have no control over it and shrug it off? When you identify mistakes that you have made, you can then think about how you would react differently next time.

Actions to take

Learn to Put Up With Put-Downs

“To appreciate the power of insults to upset our tranquility, we need only take a look at the things that upset us in daily living. High on the list will be the insulting behavior of other people.”

Being insulted physically or verbally is one of the main reasons why people do not follow all the Stoic habits. While most of us know that letting go of things we cannot control is central to philosophy, we can’t easily apply it in our lives when we are insulted. The best way to stop others from impacting our happiness is by practicing specific methods for reacting to insults.

By stopping to analyze the reason for the insult, the truth behind it, and the person delivering it, we can take the ‘sting’ out of it and prevent us from feeling angry towards it.

Actions to take

Become a Stoic

“It will take both effort and willpower to abandon our old goals, such as the attainment of fame and fortune, and replace them with a new goal, namely, the attainment of tranquility.”

Becoming a Stoic and following the ideals described in this summary is difficult but worthwhile. The best time to start is right now because the earlier you do, the better prepared you will be for future hardships.

Actions to take

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