Latish Sehgal's Blog

Book Notes: A Guide to the Good Life- the Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

Read On: Oct 12, 2013
Reading Time: 8 hours
Rating: 9/10


In A Guide to the Good Life, William B. Irvine plumbs the wisdom of Stoic philosophy, one of the most popular and successful schools of thought in ancient Rome, and shows how its insight and advice are still remarkably applicable to modern lives.


  • Most people do not know what they want out of life (their purpose). A lot of them end up following enlightened hedonism.
  • Stoics only suppress negative emotions. They allow comforts, but are prepared to give up the good things as needed.
  • A Stoic sage is free from vanity and indifferent to good and evil. This is exceedingly rare to achieve and more like a model to aim for. Sage is to Stoicisim as Buddha is to Buddhism.
  • Misfortune weighs more heavily on those who expect nothing but good fortune.
  • Hedonic Adaptation: Human beings are insatiable. After working hard to get what we want, we lose interest in the object of our desire. Most of us are living the dream, a dream we once had for ourselves. We have a good marriage, kids, house, car etc but we take them for granted and want other things. The easiest way to be happy is to want things we already have.
  • Negative Visualization can help counter hedonic adaptation and also minimize grief. Imagine that we lose the things we value. Do not take love ones for granted. Contemplate the loss of your possessions.
  • To maintain our tranquility, we should set internal rather than external goals for areas in which we have limited control.
  • It’s a good idea to have a fatalistic attitude (rather than wanting events to conform to our desires, we make our desires conform to events) towards the past and the immediate present and embrace what’s happening since we cannot change it.
  • Regularly analyze and observe your own actions.
  • Avoid befriending people with corrupt values. Vices are contagious.
  • A good response to an insult is self-deprecating humor. It frustrates the insulter.
  • Fame comes with a high price. If we seek social status, we give other people power over us. We have to do things calculated to make them admire us, and refrain from doing things that will trigger their disfavor. We make it our goal to please them and can no longer please ourselves.


I am not very religious, and have recently become aware of lack of spiritual growth in life. After reading a summary of this book somewhere, It really resonated with me and I decided to read the whole thing. A lot of the principles outlined in the book are already aligned with my current philosophy in life, and it made me think about certain areas that I never paid attention to before. I think your mileage might vary, but I got a lot out of it.

P.S I have moved all my Book Notes to Read My Book Notes.