Books You'll Love - A Guide to the Good Life

A Guide to the Good Life - William B Irvine 


William B Irvine is professor of philosophy at Wright State University and the author of seven books, including A Guide to the Good Life, the first book to properly help me grasp the basics of Stoicism and my #1 I recommend. When I first came across Stoicism, it was through the pages of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, a book that wasn’t supposed to be a book – it was the ruler of Rome’s personal journal that was mysteriously acquired and made into a book. Meditations is a POWERFUL book but reading it raw, without any introduction to Stoicism will leave you a little perplexed if not very confused to why his mindset was so unique. To get a better handle on the priorities and values of a practicing Stoic like Marcus, I recommend A Guide to the Good Life as it serves as the perfect foundation to understand Stoicism, why the philosophy was born, some of the leaders and why they perceived life so differently.


William Irvine attempts to answer the question, “How to have a good life?” and it’s written for those that may benefit from forming a personal philosophy of life. “The Stoic philosophy of life may be old,” Irvine explains, “but it merits the attention of any modern individual who wishes to have a life that is both meaningful and fulfilling – who wishes, that is, to have a good life.” Who doesn’t want to have a good life? One of the biggest themes is our responsibility to adopt a philosophy of life, because if we lack one, there is a danger that we will mislive – that we will spend our life pursuing goals that aren’t worth attaining or will pursue worthwhile goals in a foolish manner and will therefore fail to attain them. This is the downside of failing to develop an effective philosophy of life: You end up wasting the one life you have. After reading A Guide to the Good Life, it seems that the biggest mistake, the one made by a huge number of people, is to have no philosophy of life at all. These people feel their way through life by following the promptings of their evolutionary programming, by assiduously seeking out what feels good and avoiding what feels bad. Many people go through life repeatedly making the same mistakes and are no closer to happiness in their eighties than they were in their twenties.


My Biggest takeaways:

More tranquility – no matter what. In sport and in live, there will always be unexpected pitfalls, setbacks and “failures” – I never write the word “failure” without quotation marks as it is subjective. “Failure” can be a catalyst for growth, or it can serve as the last straw – and for us to give up and quit. Irvine states that a reward of practicing Stoicism is to experience less negative emotions and because of this you will enjoy more tranquility in life.


It’s important to not get this confused with stoic (little s) which is defined by someonenot being affected or showing passion or feeling especially firmly restraining response to pain or distress


The Stoics (big S) in contrast to the (little s) enjoys whatever “good things” happened to be available, but even as they did so, they prepared themselves to give up the things in question. They 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. We shouldn’t seek for comfort, but if it happens to be there, we should also enjoy it. The challenge is to not get attached and be ready to let go – one of many, similar views that Buddhism values. As Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius said, if you must live in a palace, you can also live well in a palace.


Takeaways to excel sport:


Practicing Stoicism is not a means of stripping ourselves of the pleasure that can be taken from anticipating something or from it appearing in our life. It’s not a practice for minimizing the enjoyment of achievements, nor is it a means of blinding us to the lessons that adverse experience can yield. What it is, is a useful reminder that the lasting effects of both good and bad things in our life are likely to be finite and that by and large we will return to a place of equilibrium in the long term. This is a useful reminder when it comes to navigating adversity. It’s also a positive thing to keep in mind when we’re riding on the crest of a wave of achievement or accomplishment.

This is a theme found currently in the work by Carol Dwerk's – rather than having a ‘fixed mindset’ focusing too much on the outcome and our worth being too tied up with said outcome (How did I play? The result of a game) We can realize our effort, time and energy is better placed in the process, ‘growth mindset’ knowing we don’t have complete control of the outcome

It is a reminder that as much as we might look to external factors, such as the achievement of things or the obtaining of stuff to make us happy, the hedonic adaptation will ensure that we become accustomed to our new-normal. Far more lasting is to seek feelings of tranquility and contentedness that come from within and originate from being contented with what we have right now. With Stoicism guiding our own personal philosophy, we can put our energy into developing our values, our character and our craft of choice instead of putting our energy into acquiring things, or achievements. We can also love those people or things already in our life without attachment or the need for our love to be reciprocated.


Takeaways to excel in life:


Self-control is a trait that the Stoics worked very hard to understand and to acquire as a trait because if we lack self-control, we are likely to be distracted by the various pleasures life has to offer, and in this distracted state we are unlikely to attain the goals of our philosophy of life. If we cannot resist the pleasures, we will end up playing, Marcus says, the role of slave, “twitching puppetwise at every pull of self-interest,” and we will spend our life “ever grumbling at today or lamenting over tomorrow.” What Stoics discovered, is that willpower is like muscle power: The more they exercised their muscles, the stronger they got, and the more they exercised their will, the stronger it got. Indeed, by practicing Stoic self-denial techniques over a long period, Stoics can transform themselves into individuals remarkable for their courage and self-control.


Combine this value with the hedonic adaptation, which refers to the innate human tendency for returning to a reasonably stable level of happiness and contentedness regardless of the positive and negative forces that are applied towards us. When something good happens, be that something unexpected, or something we’ve anticipated and worked towards, we may feel satisfaction, a spike in happiness or even euphoria. Soon enough though the novelty wears off, the gains become accepted as our new-normal and we return to our baseline level of feelings. The Stoics worked hard to be conscious of this “hedonic treadmill” of craving, acquiring and adapting – only to be entrapped by a new cycle beginning with a craving for something better. Stoics broke this cycle by thinking in terms not of a glass half-empty, or even half full but finding abundance and gratitude for just having a glass in the first place - they broke this cycle by wanting what they already have.


What do you think? Can you find value in a philosophy rooted in Ancient Greece, Rome? Can you already see yourself applying some of these techniques towards your pursuit of greatness on and off the court? Let me know below in the comments.






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