← Back to bookshelf 📚
cover for A Guide to the Good Life

A Guide to the Good Life — by William Braxton Irvine

Rating: 9/10

This is one of my favorite books from the year. A Guide to the Good Life guided me through a journey of questioning what do I want out of life?, and helped me explore this question through the lens of philosophy.

This book’s approach to philosophy is different to everything I had been taught about philosophy – and it seems that in Ancient Greece, the approach to philosophy was radically different than the one we see now, where philosophy is mainly studied in universities. Back then, philosophy’s main concern was how can we live a good life. Now, one could say it’s main concern is understanding semantics and meanings, and metaphysics.

Ancient philosophers were concerned with making philosophy practical. To put it in perspective:

“Vain is the word of a philosopher which does not heal any suffering of man. For just as there is no profit in medicine if it does not expel the diseases of the body, so there is no profit in philosophy either, if it does not expel the suffering of the mind.” – Epicurus

The book is based around the idea that in order to live a good life, one must have a philosophy of life. That is, to know what one wants out of life and how to achieve it.

“Suppose you can identify your grand goal in living. Suppose, too, that you can explain why this goal is worth attaining. Even then, there is a danger that you will mislive. In particular, if you lack an effective strategy for attaining your goal, it is unlikely that you will attain it. Thus, the second component of a philosophy of life is a strategy for attaining your grand goal in living. This strategy will specify what you must do, as you go about your daily activities, to maximize your chances of gaining the thing in life that you take to be ultimately valuable.” – William Braxton Irvine

The author pointed out which was very shocking to me, and it is that the default philosophy of life for almost everyone today is: to spend one’s days seeking an interesting mix of affluence, social status, and pleasure.

What was shocking to me is that I had fallen into that default, and had never given much thought to constructing my own philosophy of life.

At this point, I was hooked to the book.

“We will reconsider our goals in living. In particular, we will take to heart the Stoic claim that many of the things we desire—most notably, fame and fortune—are not worth pursuing. We will instead turn our attention to the pursuit of tranquility and what the Stoics called virtue. We will discover that Stoic virtue has very little in common with what people today mean by the word. We will also discover that the tranquility the Stoics sought is not the kind of tranquility that might be brought on by the ingestion of a tranquilizer; it is not, in other words, a zombie-like state. It is instead a state marked by the absence of negative emotions such as anger, grief, anxiety, and fear, and the presence of positive emotions—in particular, joy.” – William Braxton Irvine

So, the author proposes that one of the most effective philosophies of life was the one developed by the Stoics, which places tranquility as that which is worth pursuing in life. The rest of the book discusses what strategies we can use to live a tranquil life.

Tranquility for the stoics is defined as minimizing negative thoughts and emotions, and maximizing positive ones.

So, what are the strategies?

The principles are both simple and timeless. I plan to incorporate them into my routines.