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A Guide to the Good Life

The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

By William B. Irvine
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A Guide to the Good Life by William B. Irvine

What's most important to you? What goals are worth pursuing? A Guide to the Good Life (2009) tackles these pivotal questions, guiding the reader through the ancient Stoic philosophy of life and offering advice on how to practice it in a modern world. Focused on the goals of virtue and tranquility, this book shows us how to find joy in our lives.

Key idea 1 of 10

Stoicism is rooted in an ancient Greek philosophy that taught the art of living a good life.

If you were a child in Greece around 300 BC and your parents wanted you to get a top education, rather than sending you off to business school as they might today, they would send you off to become well versed in the study of philosophy. One of the main schools of ancient Greek philosophy, and one that is still well known today, is the Stoic school.

Aside from rhetoric and logic, pupils studying philosophy would be taught a philosophy of life, that is, the art of living a good life. But what did this entail, and why would you need a philosophy of life back then – or even today?

Having a philosophy of life is a lot like having a road map for your life. Philosophy inspires you to reflect on what you really want, so that you are able to articulate and define your goals. For instance, if you decide that your goal is to be more caring and attentive, a philosophy of life will assist you in finding the best approach to reach this goal.

Conversely, failing to set out goals may mean that you live your life in a way that you’ll regret as you get older.

But pinpointing your goals can be tricky and tiresome in the modern world, where thousands of distractions compete for your attention on a daily basis and keep you from reflecting on your life.

Stoicism can help point you in the right direction, however, as it teaches a moderate way of life; it preaches neither absolute asceticism and a hand-to-mouth existence, nor ruthless hedonism. The Stoics endorsed a middle way, the path of moderation.

A Stoic, then, could enjoy a good meal and companionship, as long as he didn’t depend on such pleasures all the time. In our modern, material world, the Stoics would argue that we shouldn’t rely on expendable goods that promise short-lived happiness. Rather, we should find happiness and joy within.

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