How to Live a Good Life Book Summary - How to Live a Good Life Book explained in key points
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How to Live a Good Life summary

ed. Massimo Pigliucci, Skye C. Cleary and Daniel A. Kaufman

A Guide to Choosing Your Personal Philosophy

4.3 (473 ratings)
27 mins

Brief summary

How to Live a Good Life is a collection of essays by various authors on the art of living a good life. It explores the three main paths to happiness: the life of pleasure, the life of personal success, and the life of meaning. The book provides practical advice on how to navigate these paths.

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    How to Live a Good Life
    Summary of 9 key ideas

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    Key idea 1 of 9

    The ancient Eastern philosophy of Buddhism values ethics above all.

    In March 2000, high in the Himalayas, Buddhism expert Owen Flanagan was lucky enough to find himself in the company of the Dalai Lama. Keen to seize the opportunity, Flanagan asked the leading Tibetan Buddhist a question about the ethics of killing someone. 

    If one could assassinate Hitler, or a similar evil figure, during that person’s rise to power, should one do it?

    The Dalai Lama consulted his fellow spiritual leaders. It took them a few minutes to reach a conclusion. His response? It’s ethical to kill such a person. Then the Dalai Lama added a caution: “But don’t be angry.”

    The key message here is: The ancient Eastern philosophy of Buddhism values ethics above all.

    Ethics is a fundamental principle in Buddhism. One of a Buddhist’s main purposes in life is to minimize overall pain and suffering – and, ideally, to maximize happiness. That can involve deeds that seem bad, like killing Hitler. As long as you act in the right frame of mind, without becoming angry, you’d still be acting ethically. You’d still be acting out of compassion in your attempt to reduce the amount of suffering in the world as a whole.

    The Buddha, otherwise known as Siddhartha Gautama, lived in the sixth century BCE. He developed Buddhism to stand in contrast to the Indian Brahmanic tradition that preceded Hinduism. The Brahmins believed that all living things were trapped in a cycle of birth and death. After death, a being’s permanent essence, or atman, transferred to another being. Escape from this cycle was only possible for the high-born Brahmins themselves.

    Buddha, however, rejected the notion of atman – he said that we did not possess that sort of permanent essence. Rather, he claimed that everything was impermanent. So, instead of striving for the release of one’s essence into the universe, Buddhism teaches that we should aim to obtain nirvana or salvation by leading good, selfless, ethical lives.

    One thing to note is that Buddhism might help you reach some state of serenity – but that isn’t really the point. Buddhism isn’t about you. It’s about the good you can do for the world overall.

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    What is How to Live a Good Life about?

    How to Live a Good Life (2020), edited by Massimo Pigliucci, Skye Cleary, and Daniel Kaufman, is an introduction to 15 philosophies for living our lives. Ranging from ancient ideologies, through the major religions, to contemporary schools of thought, 15 leading scholars enlighten us with the philosophies that guide their lives.

    How to Live a Good Life Review

    How to Live a Good Life (2018) is a thought-provoking book that explores the secrets to living a well-rounded and fulfilling life. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • It provides practical advice on how to integrate well-being into different aspects of our lives, enabling us to create balance and find meaning.
    • Combining the wisdom of ancient philosophy with modern psychology, this book offers a unique perspective on the art of living a good life in today's world.
    • Through compelling stories and thought-provoking exercises, the book guides us on a journey of self-reflection and personal growth, making it an engaging and insightful read.

    Best quote from How to Live a Good Life

    The Daoist way directs us to embrace, absorb, and embody the particular pattern in all things. – Robin R. Wang

    —ed. Massimo Pigliucci, Skye C. Cleary and Daniel A. Kaufman
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    Who should read How to Live a Good Life?

    • Those in search of a new philosophy of life
    • People wanting to do good
    • People interested in learning about philosophy

    About the Author

    Massimo Pigliucci, Skye C. Cleary, and Daniel A. Kaufman are all philosophers based in the United States. Pigliucci originally trained and worked as a scientist before doing a second PhD in philosophy, and now writes on Stoicism. Cleary is an existentialism expert, and Kaufman is a philosophy professor who authored this book’s chapter on Aristotelianism.

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    How to Live a Good Life FAQs 

    What is the main message of How to Live a Good Life?

    Discover practical advice and ancient wisdom to guide you in living a fulfilling and meaningful life.

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    The reading time for How to Live a Good Life varies depending on the reader's speed. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is How to Live a Good Life a good book? Is it worth reading?

    How to Live a Good Life is a thought-provoking book that offers practical tools to help you live a more fulfilling life. It's definitely worth reading.

    Who is the author of How to Live a Good Life?

    The authors of How to Live a Good Life are Massimo Pigliucci, Skye C. Cleary, and Daniel A. Kaufman.

    What to read after How to Live a Good Life?

    If you're wondering what to read next after How to Live a Good Life, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • How To Read Literature Like A Professor by Thomas C. Foster
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    • Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky
    • A Handbook for New Stoics by Massimo Pigliucci and Gregory Lopez
    • The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown
    • The Other Significant Others by Rhaina Cohen
    • Stillness Is the Key by Ryan Holiday