Adrian Stobbe

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

6 minutes (1474 words)
Table of contents

🔗 Link : Goodreads

⭐️ Rating: 9/10

🔗🚀 The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. Stoicism tries to improve quality of life by becoming more appreciative about our day to day experiences.
  2. Stoics mentally prepare themselves for bad things to happen, to be less affected by them and feel less regrets.
  3. Stoics believe that we need to change our mind and not external conditions/circumstances to have a tranquil and happy life.

🔗How I Discovered It

🔗Who Should Read It?

You want to find a philosophy of life. You want to have a more fulfilled and happier life. You think that materialism and consumerism is not the road to happiness. You want to be more robust to negative events and regret less.

🔗☘️ How the Book Changed Me

How my life / behavior / thoughts / ideas have changed as a result of reading the book.

It fostered my determination on how I want to live and convinced me of Stoic principles. Without knowing, I shared many convictions before: the virtue of being frugal, purposefulness, robustness to judgement and emotions.. However, I became more aware of the power of self-control. I’ve been trying to become more disciplined with regards to my diet, exercise and getting up early, but there are many more dimensions that can benefit from it. The ability to gain more control over our desires was eye opening to me. Also, I want to apply negative visualization to become more appreciative about the people I care about, finiteness of life, moments and activities.

🔗📒 Summary + Notes

I want to find a philosophy of life to be sure that my time is spend meaningfully. I don’t want to regret having squandered it later.

Philosophy made a big leap forward around 500 BC: Pythagoras, Confucius, Buddha

Stoicism, unlike Cynicism, doesn’t suggest to refrain from joy to prevent attachment to good things. Instead, it teaches to prepare ourselves for loss.

Religions teach how to behave morally, but not how to live a happy life.

Enemies are the first to discover your mistakes.

Hunger is the best appetizer. It makes you enjoy simple food with more pleasure.

Don’t bother about things that are out of control.

Divide actions into those

🔗Desires and Life attitude

The easiest way to gain happiness is to want the things you already have.

Human desire is insatiable. After getting what we want, we lose interest and desire the next thing.

Don’t bother about things that are out of control. Divide actions into complete/partial/no control.

Internalize goals that are under partial control. E.g being loved is not under my control, but being a good lover is totally internal.

Expect bad things to happen. Misfortune hurts most when we expect good fortune.

Negative visualization: each time might be the last one. Imagine the loss of what you value - beloved ones, activities, abilities, possessions. How would you feel if you become blind or lose freedom? Considering this makes you cherish those moments more and prevents later regrets when things are gone.


Practice poverty from time to time. See how cheap things can make you happy.

Wealth is not worth pursuing if we reject pursuing fame. Spending doesn’t make happy, in that it raises our benchmarks to be happy. It’s a blessing to be happy with simple food, because it is hard to lose. Whereas, luxury is easy to slip away and makes us crave for bigger things.

Hunger is the best appetizer. It makes you enjoy simple food with more pleasure.

Food is an especially dangerous pleasure, because we are exposed to it every day. Keep food, living and clothing practical.

Occasionally resist pleasure to train self-control. The goal is to internalize happiness and indulgence is an external pleasure. E.g. resisting to eat an ice cream makes us forego the culinary pleasure of sweetness but it brings the pleasure of self-control.

Our desire for pleasures tend to be short sighted, bearing long term costs. While self-control takes effort, not having it is also expensive. Think of all the trouble coming from affairs, drugs, food…

Put yourself in discomfort: do exercise, wear too little clothes, resist eating.. Enjoy the achievement of self-control.

When wanting to buy something, ask if this will make you happier.

🔗Momento mori

Everything is ephemeral: Being with my family; Showing love to people I like; Dancing; Sports; Enjoying good weather. Remind yourself how they make you happy without attaching to them.

You probably have a lot of what you dreamed of in the past. Did the desires fulfill you long term?

You likely take for granted things that your ancestors dreamt of and never had.

Gain happiness by changing yourself. Want only those things that are easy to obtain.

Happiness is, to a great extent, not dependent on external living conditions. Happiness is about being content with how things are and this is more about training the mind than trying to get more from the outside world.

Focus your energy on what you genuinely value and be indifferent about the rest. Most “bad” things are not really that bad…

Be fatalistic about the past. Don’t think about how things could have been better.

Find delight in your own resources, and desire no joys greater than your inner joys.

Stoics are not afraid of dying, because life is finite. A life with meaning and engagement in ones duties is worth dying when the time has come. They are willing to sacrifice their life for their principles. For them, a life that has nothing to be worth dying for is not worth anything.

Observe what older people are taken away from because of their health condition, and visualize how you might feel without it. It makes you appreciate having it, but realize how you could also live without it.

When older people complain about aging, make them realize how it could be worse.


Friendship and love bring much joy, but they are also the cause of our greatest discomfort and pain. Peoples behavior bothers us and we are anxious about social expectations.

Instead of escaping human interaction, we should see it as our duty. We are stronger together and have to strive for harmony to benefit each other. Show love to the people around you.

Avoid people with unclean principles, because it will affect ourselves. Those with unwholesome desires, who whine and complain, because it disrupts your tranquility.

When you feel annoyed about other people’s defects, think about your defects. For your mental tranquility, assume that they are destined to behave like this, but help to invoke change. People can change.

Be silent when people chit-chat and try to change the topic toward something more interesting.

Prepare for social interaction. Develop your own personality while being alone and stick to yourself when socializing. Set rules and remain true to your principles.

In a good marriage, two people will join in a loving union and will try to outdo each other in the care they show for each other.

🔗Dealing with emotions

Sex is likely to do more harm than good. Who says that life would have been easier if he were more sexually active? But how often is the reverse true? Unwanted pregnancy..

To maintain self-control over lust, it is helpful to analyze how primitive and mundane our desires are: Sex is no more than friction with ejaculatory discharge..

Our natural impulses to have sex, to desire, feel insulted by other people’s opinion are driven by evolution, not to have a tranquil life. But we can use our reasoning to resist and pursue tranquility instead.

Don’t take insults personally. Showing indifference is most effective. If they are foolish, deflect the insult with humor. If you don’t know how to respond, ignore it and keep silent.

Don’t take other people’s praise nor disapproval. Seeking social status means externalizing our luck, which is out of our control.

When a friend feels grieve, grieving with him is like drinking poison after he was poisoned. The goal is to make him feel better, not to make us feel miserable as well. And we are likely to be much more helpful if we don’t let our feelings be disturbed.

Modern philosophy suggests forcing grieve and talking to friends and a psychologist as a mean of processing it. Stoicism tries to make us feel better through reflection and reasoning. Would that person want me to be sad?

🔗Bedtime meditation

Before going to bed, ask these questions:

  1. What upset me?
  2. What failed?
  3. How can I improve?

🔗Living like a stoic

  1. Practice negative visualization. Set a time and situation. On commute? Before sleep?
  2. Focus on goals under our control and internalize them.
  3. Don’t dwell on the past or how things could have been better.
  4. Practice self-denial to gain self-control.