A Guide To The Good Life: the ancient art of stoic joy

Recommend: 9/10

ISBN: 978-0-19-537461-2

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A philosophy from the ancient Greeks and Romans based on pursuing tranquility and enjoyment and minimizing negative emotions. Not the easiest philosophy to follow, but one that offers sound advice and is based on reason. This book takes that philosophy and gives instructions on applying it in the real world.

My Notes

Disclaimer: These are my personal notes about what I found important. They are not a replacement for reading the book, which I recommend you do.

The adversities we experience count as “mere training” and “those things which we all tremble at are for the good of the persons themselves to whom they come.”

To have a good life, think of the purpose for which you evelolved, and live accordingly, according to nature.

Strive to be an excellent human and live according to nature and you will find tranquility.

Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness-all of them due to the offenders ignorance of what is good and evil

According to the ancient philosophers, to be virtuous is to live as we have evolved to live in accordance of nature including Logic, physics, ethics

Tranquility is the absence of negative emotions.

Humans are unhappy because we are insatiable, after working hard to get what we want we get bored and create even bigger desires. It’s called hedonic adaption.

Easiest way to happiness is to want what we already have. Do this by visualizing losing those things

Contemplating your own death helps you enjoy life.

One of the reasons children are capable of joy is because they don’t take things for granted.

There are things which we have complete control and things we don’t have complete control. Be careful about wanting things you don’t have any control over.

Don’t worry about things that aren’t up to you.

We have complete control over the goals we set for ourselves, but not on whether or not we achieve them.

We have complete control over our values such as sincerity, dignity, and industriousness and we can also choose to be less arrogant, or to rise above our pleasures, or to be more frank, direct, grumble less, and carry ourselves with authority.

By forming values properly and assigning things their correct values we can avoid much grief and anxiety. Valuing things such as possessions or people’s opinions of us will cause stress.

Learn from the past, but don’t dwell on it. Nothing can be done to change it. Since present also slips into the past, there is also little that can be done for present as well. The future is different and can be planned and changed.

If we want what we already have, we won’t have to work to fulfill our desires in order to gain satisfaction.

One of the things we have is this very moment. You either spend it wishing it was different or embrace it. Live in the moment.

Refuse to think how your situation could be better/different in the present. However, don’t be complacent. Be attentive to all the advantages that adorn life.

Occasionally create discomforts and allow denial of comforts. Going without creates appreciation and makes you realize what you don’t need.

Be careful about pursuing pleasures as they can become your master. Once you have them, you don’t want to give them up. Occasionally passing on pleasures also builds self control. The more you practice denying yourself the easier it gets.

Meditate on a days events and how you could have handled them better/different. A good time to do this could be when journalling. Did something effect your tranquility, were you angry, upset? What could you have done to avoid these feelings? How could you have handled a situation differently.

Progress may not always be easy. When you notice you aren’t following the principles, don’t give up.

According to Stoics, humans purpose is to be rational. To live among other people and interact in ways that are advantageous for everyone. Think kindly of all of man kind and what you can do to help. Help people and make things better to help you live a good life, not for their thanks or admiration.

How can you preserve your tranquility when interacting with other people? Prepare to deal with people, choose friends who share similar values of stoicism, avoid people with bad attitudes or who have bad values, avoid people who are whiny or or always down.

When conversing with people who don’t share your values it is best to mostly keep quit and not get involved.

When dealing with annoying people, realize that people also find us annoying and focus less on what they do and more on what you do. We should also try to help people change. Don’t let people make you hate them. The best way to get revenge is to not be like them.

In marriage, a couple should try to outdo each other in caring and love for each other.

When dealing with insults, we shouldn’t be insulted by something that is true. Why care when that thing is self evident. Also consider the source on an insult/criticism, if we trust the source, then we shouldn’t get mad, but listen. If we don’t trust the source, we know we must be on the correct path. Treat most insults like that of a barking dog. Note the bark, but don’t spend your day worrying about that dog not liking you.

We choose to let insults sting us or not.

Reply to insults with humor. Especially self deprecating or ignore them altogether. For those who don’t understand what you are ignoring them or being humorous, you may need directly address the situation to let them know its not appropriate.

When dealing with grief, experience it, but don’t get caught in it. Also use negative visualization to think how it would have been worse had you never met that person at all. Use reason. Don’t be caught up in other people’s grief. Sympathize but don’t grieve yourself. Pretend. Ask yourself, is this what the person who died would have wanted?

Anger is a “brief insanity” “No plague has cost the human race more”. Being angry doesn’t make things better. Sometimes you may need to feign anger to get a point across.

Fight our tendency to believe the worst about others or jump to conclusions.

Most things that anger us don’t do us any real harm. Anger usually last longer than the thing that caused it.

Laugh, think of how insignificant we are and anger doesn’t matter.

“People are unhappy, in large, because they are confused about what is valuable.” Seeking fame gives others power over us. Giving other people power over us can negatively affect our tranquility. If we care about our freedom, we must not care what people think about us.

To gain someones admiration you would have to adopt their values. If you don’t agree with their values, why would you care?

Many people want you to fail to make themselves look better. Your success makes them look bad.

Pursuing wealth won’t make you happy. Gaining wealth often makes it so you don’t appreciate the smaller joys in life.

Eat to live not live to eat.

People who achieve luxurious lifestyles are rarely satisfied. Their is pleasure in simplicity. The desire for wealth is not a natural desire and can’t be satisfied. If you are thirsty and drink you no longer want water. If you achieve wealth you want more wealth.

Its okay to be wealthy but you shouldn’t cling to it. Realize that it isn’t important. Fame and wealth can be used as tools to accomplish the better good and help people.

As we get older we can/should appreciate life more because we are closer to death.

Much fear of death comes from a mis-lived life and a want to hold onto things that were never permanent in the first place.

“If you have a philosophy of life, decision making is relatively straightforward: When choosing between the options life offers, you simply choose the one most likely to help you attain the goals set forth by your philosophy of life:” In the absence of a philosophy, even small choices can turn into “meaning of life choices”

We need to learn how to enjoy things without feeling entitled to them.

Avoid being a connoisseur and only being happy with the best.

“Always seek to conquer myself rather than fortune, to change my desires rather than the established order, and generally to believe that nothing except our thoughts is wholly under our control, so that after we have done our best in external matters, what remains to be done is absolutely impossible, at least as far as we are concerned.

If you think of yourself as a victim, you aren’t going to have a good life.

The steps to transform a society is to first help people realize that happiness doesn’t depend on external circumstances, and then change external circumstances.

A better way to gain satisfaction is not to work to satisfy our desires, but work to master them and work at wanting the things we already have.

Be self-aware: Observe ourselves as we go about our daily business, and we should periodically reflect on how we responded to the days events. How did we respond to an insult? To the loss of a possession? To a stressful situation? Did we, in our our response, put stoic psychological strategies to work?”

Use reasoning ability to overcome negative emotions. We should also use our reasoning ability to master our desires. In particular, we should use reason to convince ourselves that things such as fame and fortune aren’t worth having- if what we seek is tranquility,–and therefore aren’t worth pursuing. Likewise, we should use our reasoning ability to convince ourselves that even though certain activities are pleasurable, engaging in those activities will disrupt our tranquility, and the tranquility lost will outweigh the pleasure gained.

“If, despite not having pursued wealth, we find ourselves wealthy, we should enjoy our affluence. We shouldn’t cling to it and should think about its loss.

We are sociable creatures; we will be miserable if we try to cut off contact with other people. Therefore, if what we seek is tranquility, we should form and maintain relations with others, In doing so, though, we should be careful about whom we befriend. We should also, to the extent possible, avoid people whose values are corrupt, for fear that their values will contaminate ours.

Other people are invariably annoying, though, so if we maintain relations with them, they will periodically upset our tranquility—if we let them.

The stoics pointed to two principal sources of human unhappiness–our insatiability and our tendency to worry about things beyond our control.

To conquer insatiability, engage in negative visualization, Think about the impermanence of things. Imagine losing the things we value. This will help us appreciate the things we have. We should sometimes experience things that are worse such as practicing poverty and forgoing pleasures and comfort.

To avoid worry, break things into three categories- Things we completely control, things we don’t, and things we partially control. Don’t worry about things you can’t control, spend some time with things we have complete control like goals and values, and much time over things we have some control.

When dealing with things which we have some control, internalize goals so we have more control over them. The goal should be to play your best match, not win the match.

Realize that the past and present can’t be changed. Learn from it don’t dwell on it.

Stoicism is a cure for for anxiety, grief, fear, and other negative emotions that prevent us from experiencing a joyful experience.

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