I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2017. The challenge is to read books that you already own.
A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy – William Irvine
So many people today seem to believe that meaningful and satisfying lives can be achieved only if they have bought the latest version or feel that they are not missing something. But they quickly get past the rush of purchase or being in the know and soon being seeking the next greatest thing. So feeling serenity or satisfaction or fulfillment, they spend all their time working and buying the latest fashionable stuff.
To jump off the treadmill of getting, buying, having, wanting, we could read this book by a college professor in philosophy. It begins with simple arguments that advocate the need for a philosophy of life, or at least an orientation to work, love, friendship, civic duty, etc. Irvine argues that we can develop such a way of thinking with Stoicism, one of the ancient Greek and Roman philosophical schools.
The Stoics emphasized the development of the four virtues: bravery, prudence, wisdom and fairness. One goal of the Stoics was to live frugally since the more shit we have the more we have to take care of, thus distracting us form what is really important like living virtuously. Another goal is to use our reason to maintain tranquility. The more involved we are in other people’s business - like working overtime so the company can simply make more money , like volunteering too much and spreading ourselves thin - the more tumultuous our lives will be. They believed that our reason was the key to freedom from fear, lust, anger, and greed. In our days of non-stop rage fed by social media and communist and fascist bots, this stoic advice about anger really strikes home.
Readers into Albert Ellis or cognitive behavioral therapy will be attracted by the encouragement to determine what is “up to us” – i.e. what we can control (our approaches and responses to inevitable trials and tribulations). Furthermore, we had better stop being anxious about with what we can’t control (our health, wealth, reputation, promotions, the Dotard, etc.), since obsessing and fretting become bad mental habits not to mention stealing joy. Irvine uses examples from his own experience which makes his ideas easy to connect with for readers with health challenges, aging parents, and demanding colleagues.
The lucid prose is easy and a pleasure to read. It presents various useful devices for the toolbox: