Out of all the books I've ever reviewed, A Guide to the Good Life is the one I highlighted and bookmarked the most. In fact, it looks like I marked a full 20% of the pages! Who knew Stoic philosophy had so much to say? William B. Irvine subtitles this book: "The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy." I knew a bit about the Stoics going in, but this book is a true marvel. A prudent person would consider reading it.
An approach I found interesting was that Irvine sets out to compare Zen Buddhism to Stoic philosophy. He discovers that they have a lot in common and that Stoicism is more appealing to his questioning nature. I have to say that I agree with him. Quieting the mind is a serious challenge for most people, whereas Stoicism provides the means to grapple with life's most complicated dilemmas. At the very least, while we are sitting meditation and the monkey mind keeps acting up, we can use Stoicism to resolve some of these questions.
How do we respond to insults?
How do we deal with annoying people?
What do we do with regrets about the past?
How do we avoid hedonic adaptation, or, what do we do when our latest tech upgrade fails to satisfy?
How do we handle grief?
"...a life plagued with negative emotions - including anger, anxiety, fear, grief, and envy - will not be a good life." - William Irvine
A philosophical tool I had not seen anywhere else had to do with the desire to commit suicide. Suicide is wrong if our living "is helpful to many." Anyone who thinks philosophy is too abstract can surely see how a thought like this might change a life, or many lives. If you don't value your life, then you have an excellent opportunity to use it in service of a greater good, since nothing else is going to distract you or seem like a better use of your time. Social duty was a preoccupation of the Stoic philosophers, and we can probably use more of that line of thinking in our own time.
"Vain is the word of a philosopher which does not heal any suffering of man." - Epicurus.
One page of this book may well have changed my life. It has to do with receiving criticism. I have held back from writing on certain topics, publishing or hosting certain things, or posting on certain sites because I did not want to deal with moderating trolls. Irvine references the philosopher Seneca saying that "if you are going to publish, you must be willing to tolerate criticism." The fact that he formed this opinion two millennia ago, not only before the Internet but before the printing press, was the kick in the pants that I needed. If I have something to say, then perhaps it is my social duty to say it publicly.
Irvine presents a picture of active philosophy during antiquity. This includes philosophers walking into people's homes uninvited to harangue them about philosophy, or accosting people about philosophy on the street to the point that their interlocutors beat them up. He wishes at one point that philosophy would become so relevant to modern society that someone gets arrested for it. We don't have to go that far; Irvine also tells us that Stoicism is risk-free because we can practice it in secret and test it out for ourselves. There is little to lose and potentially much to gain. Reading A Guide to the Good Life is even easier than that.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.