A Guide to The Good Life: Summary Review & Takeaways

This is a summary review of A Guide to The Good Life containing key details about the book.

What is A Guide to The Good Life About?

A Guide to The Good Life 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.

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Who is the author of A Guide to The Good Life?

William B. Irvine is a bestselling author. He is a professor of philosophy at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

Book details

  • Print length: 326 Pages
  • Genre: Philosophy, Nonfiction, Self Help

What are key takeaways from A Guide to The Good Life?

Takeaway #1: Stoics Taught the Art of Living a Good Life

In Ancient Greece, when parents wanted their children to get a great education, they would send them off to study philosophy. They did this in Stoic school, which still exists today. Along with rhetoric and logic, students would study the philosophy of life. Why did anyone need to learn how to live a good life and why is this lesson still important today? When you have a philosophy of life, you have direction. A philosophy of life will help you establish and reach your goals even in today’s modern world, which is full of distractions. Stoicism teaches moderation, not extreme existences like asceticism or self-indulgence. Simply put, they preach against reliance upon expendable goods to make one happy. Instead, one should find the joy from within.

Takeaway #2: The Stoics saw two main goals worth pursuing

If they didn’t focus on accumulating wealth, what goals did the Stoics set? The two qualities that they focused on were learning to be virtuous and practicing tranquility. Being virtuous means different things to different people. It can be exhibited in honoring one’s parents or considering the feelings of others. The second goal, tranquility, means putting away negative thoughts, which then makes room for positive emotions. These two goals actually work together. For both to work in one’s life, you must use reason, practice self-control and not be overcome by emotions. Stoics understand negative emotions like anger are futile and that staying calm offers many benefits.

Takeaway #3: We should Learn to Appreciate What You Have

Everyone suffers from one weakness, that is, enough is never enough. Even though we know things won’t make us happy, we seem to still want more. Some psychologists refer to this as hedonic adaption and describe it as, you buy something, enjoy it for a while, and then you want something newer or different. How can you free yourself from the vicious cycle of hedonic adaption? Stoics would advise that you appreciate and learn to want the things that you already have. One way to do this is by imagining that things that you aren’t appreciating have vanished (negative visualization). This practice will help you better enjoy the people and things around you.

Takeaway #4: Voluntary Discomfort is a Key Step Toward Appreciating What You Have

Go a step further and adopt the concept of voluntary discomfort. This practice involves abstaining or practicing poverty. You don’t have to go to the extreme of starving yourself, you just have to make yourself mildly uncomfortable. Why would you do this, you ask? First, to harden or strengthen yourself. Some things that you might do include, ride or walk instead of driving a car or take cold showers. As a result, you’ll appreciate your car and hot water. You might also abstain from certain pleasures, like denying yourself a glass of wine or dessert to build willpower.

Takeaway #5: Change Your Attitude Toward Things You Can’t Control

People often pine over something that they know they cannot have. Instead of getting down about the weather, something that you can’t control, a Stoic would advise that you focus on finding happiness in things that are within your control. This includes setting goals for yourself and establishing values to live by. But, what about things that you have some, but not total, control over, like winning a tennis match? Here, Stoics recommend you put a concept called internalizing your goals into action. Instead of setting a goal to win, you would set a goal of playing your best game. This allows you to focus on yourself and your abilities so you might play better and will have a better chance of winning.

Takeaway #6: Getting Angry With and Seeking Approval From Others is Pointless

It is horrible when a coworker can say something stupid and ruin your entire day. Stoics would say that you should never let others disturb your peace, but this can be hard. Of course, you can’t change others and you have to interact with people almost daily. For your own well-being, it helps to be more tolerant of others by remembering that everyone has faults. And, it is easy to fall into negative behaviors like envy, ignorance or frustration. We also can’t control how others think of you. No matter what you do, some people will find flaws with what you do. Therefore, it is important to stop seeking the approval of others. When you seek the approval of others, you give them power over you and your success.

Takeaway #7: Don’t Let Wealth Corrupt You

Chasing wealth is honorable in today’s society. The Stoics, however, would stress that your mental health is much more important than wealth. The Stoic philosopher Musonius once said that money won’t soothe your sorrows, as evidenced by wealthy people who are wretched. Stoics further believe that a life of luxury is an unnatural desire that cannot be fulfilled. This is because you’ll never be satisfied, and when you live a life of opulence, you won’t appreciate small things. On the contrary, a person who lives a simple life will take delight in simple pleasures.

Takeaway #8: We Can Learn From The Stoics How to Deal With Old Age and Grief

Death is a topic that is not pleasant to talk about. But, it is important to learn how the Stoics deal with death. They acknowledge that grief is a natural response to death. However, the key is not to let it consume you. One way that Stoics do this is by removing the shock of death through visualization. Visualizing your loved one deceased removes the shock of death. It also helps you to appreciate them even more. Upon death, it is just as important to comfort yourself and give yourself reasons not to grieve. Although we know that death is imminent, thinking about your own can be the most difficult. Aging causes one to contemplate death more carefully. Stoics preach the importance of cherishing your life no matter your age.

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Takeaway #9: Becoming a Stoic is Life-Changing, But Take Your Time

You’re likely contemplating the benefits of and trying to figure out how you can live a Stoic lifestyle. Because it is a life philosophy, adopting these teachings will give you peace, teach you what is valuable and simplify your life. Stoic values also make decision-making easier because you have clear goals and values. If you are considering converting, that is good, but take your time. It is not a decision that you should make overnight. It will also take time and effort to adapt to the lifestyle. You can start by putting to practice one technique, such as negative visualization. Then move to another technique, like internalizing your goals. Lastly, try not to think negatively of others. Do these things and you will be on your way to experiencing the pure joy of being.

What are the chapters in A Guide to The Good Life?

One - Philosophy Takes an Interest in Life
Two - The First Stoics
Three - Roman Stoicism
Four - Negative Visualization: What’s the Worst That Can Happen?
Five - The Dichotomy of Control: On Becoming Invincible
Six - Fatalism: Letting Go of the Past . . . and the Present
Seven - Self-Denial: On Dealing with the Dark Side of Pleasure
Eight - Meditation: Watching Ourselves Practice Stoicism
Nine - Duty: On Loving Mankind
Ten - Social Relations: On Dealing with Other People
Eleven - Insults: On Putting Up with Put-Downs
Twelve - Grief: On Vanquishing Tears with Reason
Thirteen - Anger: On Overcoming Anti-Joy
Fourteen - Personal Values: On Seeking Fame
Fifteen - Personal Values: On Luxurious Living
Sixteen - Exile: On Surviving a Change of Place
Seventeen - Old Age: On Being Banished to a Nursing Home
Eighteen - Dying: On a Good End to a Good Life
Nineteen - On Becoming a Stoic: Start Now and Prepare to Be Mocked
Twenty - The Decline of Stoicism
Twenty-One - Stoicism Reconsidered
Twenty-Two - Practicing Stoicism

What are some of the main summary points from the book?

Here are some key summary points from the book:

  • The book "A Guide to the Good Life" provides insights and practical advice on practicing Stoicism in modern life.
  • Stoicism is a philosophy that emphasizes the importance of living a virtuous life and finding inner peace.
  • One of the key principles of Stoicism is focusing on what is under our control and accepting what is not.
  • The concept of "dichotomy of control" teaches us to distinguish between things we can control (our thoughts, actions, and attitudes) and things we cannot control (external events, opinions of others).
  • Stoicism encourages us to cultivate a mindset of gratitude and contentment with what we have, rather than constantly seeking external validation or material possessions.
  • Another central idea in Stoicism is the practice of negative visualization, which involves contemplating the loss of the things we value in order to appreciate them more and reduce attachment.
  • The philosophy teaches us to embrace challenges and setbacks as opportunities for growth and learning, rather than being consumed by negative emotions or dwelling on past failures.
  • Stoics advocate for living in accordance with nature and accepting the impermanence of all things, including our own lives.
  • The practice of self-denial and simplicity is valued in Stoicism, as it helps to reduce desires and attachments that can lead to dissatisfaction and unhappiness.
  • Stoicism encourages the development of resilience and emotional equanimity, allowing us to navigate life's ups and downs with grace and composure.

What are good quotes from A Guide to The Good Life?

"...pay attention to your enemies, for they are the first to discover your mistakes." (Meaning)

“Your primary desire should be your desire not to be frustrated by forming desires you won’t be able to fulfill.”

“Pursuing pleasure is like pursuing a wild beast: On being captured, it can turn on us and tear us to pieces. Or, changing the metaphor a bit, he tells us that

"..Intense pleasures, when captured by us, become our captors... the more pleasures a man captures, the more masters will he have to serve.”

"the easiest way for us to gain happiness is to learn how to want the things we already have.”

“...every time we do something could be the last time we do it, and this recognition can invest the things we do with a significance and intensity that would otherwise be absent.”

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“if we seek social status, we give other people power over us: We have to do things calculated to make them admire us, and we have to refrain from doing things that will trigger their disfavor.”

“We humans are unhappy in large part because we are insatiable; after working hard to get what we want, we routinely lose interest in the object of our desire. Rather than feeling satisfied, we feel a bit bored, and in response to this boredom, we go on to form new, even grander desires.”

“One reason children are capable of joy is that they take almost nothing for granted.”

“If you refuse to think of yourself as a victim—if you refuse to let your inner self be conquered by your external circumstances—you are likely to have a good life, no matter what turn your external circumstances take.

“It is, after all, hard to know what to choose when you aren’t really sure what you want.”

"...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"

“Most Buddhists can never hope to become as enlightened as Buddha, but nevertheless, reflecting on Buddha's perfection can help them gain a degree of enlightenment.”

“If we are overly sensitive, we will be quick to anger... if we allow ourselves to be corrupted by pleasure, nothing will seem bearable to us, and the reason things will seem unbearable is not because they are hard but because we are soft.”

“the first step in transforming a society into one in which people live a good life is to teach people how to make their happiness depend as little as possible on their external circumstances. The second step in transforming a society is to change people’s external circumstances. "

"bad men obey their lusts as servants obey their masters"

“one wonderful way to tame our tendency to always want more is to persuade ourselves to want the things we already have.”

“We can either spend this moment wishing it could be different, or we can embrace this moment.”

“...learn how to enjoy things without feeling entitled to them and without clinging to them.”

"avoid people who are simply whiny... who are melancholy and bewail everything, who find pleasure in every opportunity for complaint.”

“After expressing his appreciation that his glass is half full rather than being completely empty, he will go on to express his delight in even having a glass: It could, after all, have been broken or stolen.”

“Pre-Socratic philosophy begins with the discovery of Nature; Socratic philosophy begins with the discovery of man's soul"

― William B. Irvine, A Guide to The Good Life Quotes

What do critics say?

Here's what one of the prominent reviewers had to say about the book: "Irvine's intended audience is nonphilosophers, but everyone can profit from his clear presentation on the on the benefits of using philosophical doctrines to live a meaningful life." — Library Journal

* The summary points above have been concluded from the book and other public sources. The editor of this summary review made every effort to maintain information accuracy, including any published quotes, chapters, or takeaways

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Chief Editor

Tal Gur is an author, founder, and impact-driven entrepreneur at heart. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His journey and most recent book, The Art of Fully Living, has led him to found Elevate Society.

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