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210 William B. Irvine: A Guide to the Good Life

Applying ancient Stoic philosophy to modern life to find happiness, tranquility, and meaning by focusing on what is in our control.

William B. Irvine: A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy


A Guide to the Good Life explores the principles and practices of ancient Stoic philosophy and applies them to modern life. The book presents a roadmap to achieving happiness, tranquility, and meaning through self-improvement and personal growth. By focusing on what is within our control and letting go of external factors, readers can find peace of mind and live a fulfilling life. The author emphasizes the importance of practices such as negative visualization, self-denial, and mindfulness to cultivate a stoic mindset and live a virtuous life.


Title: A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

Author: William B. Irvine

Publishing year: 2013

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Length in hours: 8 hours and 3 minutes

5 main ideas

  1. Ancient Stoic philosophy provides a practical guide for living a good life in modern times.
  2. The Stoic worldview emphasizes the importance of focusing on what is within our control and accepting what is outside of it.
  3. Negative visualization is a powerful tool for cultivating gratitude and reducing anxiety by imagining worst-case scenarios.
  4. Self-denial can help cultivate self-control and reduce attachment to material possessions, freeing us from the constant desire for more.
  5. Mindfulness and other meditative practices can help us cultivate awareness of our thoughts and emotions, allowing us to better regulate our responses to external events.
William B. Irvine: A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

5 funny quotes

  1. "Stoics believe that if you have a toothache, you should still try to smile."
  2. "Stoics are happy even at funerals."
  3. "It's hard to think of a better name for a group of people who spend their lives trying to suppress their emotions than 'Stoics.'"
  4. "For the Stoics, negative visualization was a kind of philosophical anti-depressant."
  5. "The Stoics might not have thought that you could learn everything from a comic strip, but they would surely have appreciated Dilbert's take on our tendency to 'make things worse by imagining all the things that might happen but probably won't.'"

5 thought-provoking quotes​

  1. "The Stoic lesson is that we are not responsible for the thoughts that pass through our minds. We are responsible, however, for entertaining them."
  2. "The Stoics believe that most of us are capable of leading lives that are just as happy as those led by the people we envy or admire."
  3. "Stoicism, in short, is a philosophy that says we should focus our attention on what is within our control and accept what is beyond our control."
  4. "The Stoics believed that most of what we desire and crave will turn out to be worthless, even harmful, to us in the end."
  5. "By learning to bear discomfort, we can better enjoy the pleasures of life and worry less about losing them."

5 dilemmas

  1. How can we balance the desire for external achievements and success with the Stoic value of focusing on what is within our control?
  2. How can we reconcile the Stoic emphasis on self-denial and moderation with the desire for pleasure and enjoyment in life?
  3. How can we balance the Stoic focus on the present moment with the need to plan for the future?
  4. How can we reconcile the Stoic value of self-sufficiency with the need for social connection and support?
  5. How can we balance the Stoic value of equanimity and detachment with the need for empathy and emotional connection with others?

5 examples

  1. The Stoic philosopher Epictetus, who taught that we should focus on what is in our control and let go of external factors.
  2. The philosopher Seneca, who wrote extensively on the Stoic virtues of courage, wisdom, justice, and self-control.
  3. The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, who kept a personal diary of his Stoic reflections and meditations.
  4. The Stoic philosopher Musonius Rufus, who emphasized the importance of self-discipline and self-denial for living a virtuous life.
  5. The modern Stoic practitioner Ryan Holiday, who has written several books on Stoic philosophy and its applications to modern life.

Referenced books

  1. "The Difference Engine" by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
  2. "The Soul of a New Machine" by Tracy Kidder
  3. "Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet" by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon
  4. "Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution" by Steven Levy
  5. "The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary" by Eric S. Raymond

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"In the end, the stoics believe, it’s not what happens to us that determines our happiness, but how we react to what happens."

William B. Irvine: A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy
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