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A Guide to the Good Life summary

William B. Irvine

The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

4.6 (346 ratings)
22 mins

Brief summary

A Guide to the Good Life by William B. Irvine is a practical guide to Stoicism, a philosophy that teaches us how to focus on what we can control and find happiness in the present moment, by embracing the virtues of wisdom, courage, justice, and self-control.

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    A Guide to the Good Life
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    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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    What is A Guide to the Good Life about?

    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.

    A Guide to the Good Life Review

    A Guide to the Good Life (2008) is a thought-provoking book that explores the ancient philosophy of Stoicism and how it can be applied to modern life to find happiness and fulfillment. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Offering a practical roadmap, it provides actionable techniques to cultivate resilience, gratitude, and tranquility in the face of life's challenges.
    • By combining philosophical insights with relatable examples and stories, the book brings Stoic principles to life, making them accessible and applicable to everyday situations.
    • The book's engaging narrative, filled with anecdotes and historical references, keeps readers hooked, ensuring that learning about Stoicism is anything but boring.

    Best quote from A Guide to the Good Life

    The Stoic philosophy of life may be old, but it merits the attention of any modern individual who wishes to have a life that is both meaningful and fulfilling.

    —William B. Irvine
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    Who should read A Guide to the Good Life?

    • Philosophy students
    • Those who are seeking to curb their negative emotions
    • Anyone wanting a simpler and more tranquil life

    About the Author

    William B. Irvine is a professor of philosophy at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. He is also the author of On Desire: Why We Want What We Want and A Slap in the Face: Why Insults Hurt – and Why They Shouldn’t.

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    A Guide to the Good Life FAQs 

    What is the main message of A Guide to the Good Life?

    A Guide to the Good Life teaches us how to live a fulfilled life by adopting Stoic philosophy.

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    The reading time for A Guide to the Good Life varies, but the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is A Guide to the Good Life a good book? Is it worth reading?

    A Guide to the Good Life is worth reading as it offers valuable insights on finding happiness and tranquility.

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

    William B. Irvine is the author of A Guide to the Good Life.

    What to read after A Guide to the Good Life?

    If you're wondering what to read next after A Guide to the Good Life, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • Lives of the Stoics by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman
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    • The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz