A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy – notes by Derek Sivers

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Guide to the Good LifeI met Derek Sivers at TEDGlobal, and find his posts always interesting. He has written a series of “book notes” – more than a review, not quite a precis of the book. They are a series of insightful and challenging thoughts which the book stimulated.

Derek wrote these notes recently about “A Guide to the Good Life: the Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, by William B. Irvine.

The book seems a timely reminder on what is important, and the need for all of us to strive to create a coherent philosophy of life. Here’s Derek’s notes:

“Almost too personal for me to give an objective review, because I found when reading it that the quirky philosophy I’ve been living my life by since 17 matches up exactly with a 2000-year-old philosophy called Stoicism. Mine was self-developed haphazardly, so it was fascinating to read the refined developed original. Really resonated.

If you lack a grand goal in living, you lack a coherent philosophy of life. When you are on your deathbed, you will look back and realize that you wasted your one chance at living.

Instead of spending your life pursuing something genuinely valuable, you squandered it because you allowed yourself to be distracted.

Whatever philosophy of life you adopt, you will probably have a better life than if you tried to live without a coherent philosophy of life. Of the things in life you might pursue, which is the thing you believe to be most valuable? Find delight in your own resources, and desire no joys greater than your inner joys. Your are unlikely to have a good and meaningful life unless your can overcome your insatiability.

Why is self-discipline worth possessing? Because those who possess it have the ability to determine what they do with their life. Those who lack self-discipline will have the path they take through life determined by someone or something else.

Philosophical thinking took a giant leap forward in the sixth century BC.

  • Pythagoras (570-500 BC) in Italy
  • Thales (636-546 BC), Anaximander (641-547 BC), and Heracleitus (535-475 BC) in Greece
  • Confucius (551-479 BC) in China
  • Buddha (563-483 BC) in India

Philosophers provided their pupils with a philosophy of life: They taught them what things in life were worth pursuing and how best to pursue them.

The Cynics thought people should enjoy the good things life has to offer, including friendship and wealth, but only if they did not cling to these good things. They thought we should periodically interrupt our enjoyment of what life has to offer to spend time contemplating the loss of whatever it is we are enjoying. But if they avoided the “good things,” as the Cynics did, they thereby demonstrated that the things in question really were good – were things that, if they did not hide them from themselves, they would crave.

The Stoics enjoyed whatever “good things” happened to be available, but even as they did so, they prepared themselves to give up the things in question.

Read the rest of Derek’s book notes.