Prasanna Natarajan

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

ISBN: 978-1522632733, READ: 2017-01-31, RATING: 410

A very difficult book to agree on terms with. Most disturbing thing from reading this book: I realised I’m already 50% stoic by this book’s definition as I hardly react with emotions to any kind of life’s happenings. If only I knew how to feel those stoical feelings while I’m being stone-cold. Perhaps this is not the right book for me. I need a book that teaches me to surrender fully to the circumstances of life, a book that teaches me to laugh a lot, cry a lot, and love a lot. Maybe one day I’ll read it again to really get the most out of this book, as apparently, this book is about joy.

(The notes are very few. I will read this book once more, and update in future.)

See Amazon Page for details and reviews.

My Notes

pursuing pleasure, Seneca warns, is like pursuing a wild beast: On being captured, it can turn on us and tear us to pieces. Or, changing the metaphor a bit, he tells us that intense pleasures, when captured by us, become our captors, meaning that the more pleasures a man captures, “the more masters will he have to serve.”

pleasure “uses no open force but deceives and casts a spell with baneful drugs, just as Homer says Circe drugged the comrades of Odysseus.” Pleasure, he cautions, “hatches no single plot but all kinds of plots, and aims to undo men through sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch, with food too, and drink and carnal lust, tempting the waking and the sleeping alike.” And pleasure, “with a stroke of her wand … cooly drives her victim into a sort of sty and pens him up, and now from that time forth the man goes on living as a pig or a wolf.”

We must learn, as Marcus puts it, to “resist the murmurs of the flesh.”

“chastity comes with time to spare, lechery has never a moment.”

Ideally, a Stoic will be oblivious to the services he does for others

As it so happens, Buddhists recommend the use of this same analytic technique. When, for example, a man finds himself lusting after a woman, Buddhists might advise him to think not about her as a whole, but about the things that compose her, including her lungs, excrement, phlegm, pus, and spittle. Doing this, Buddhists claim, will help the man extinguish his lustful feelings. If this doesn’t do the trick, Buddhists might advise him to imagine her body in the various stages of decomposition.

The Stoic philosophy of life may be old, 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.

Marcus also offers some words of advice to those who value what many would take to be the ultimate form of fame: immortal fame. Such fame, Marcus says, is “an empty, hollow thing.” After all, think about how foolish it is to want to be remembered after we die. For one thing, since we are dead, we will not be able to enjoy our fame. For another, we are foolish to think that future generations will praise us, without even having met us, when we find it so difficult to praise our contemporaries, even though we meet them routinely. Instead of thinking about future fame, Marcus says, we would do well to concern ourselves with our present situation; we should, he advises, “make the best of today.”

In particular, he advised old people to “choose to die well while you can; wait too long, and it might become impossible to do so.” He added, “It is better to die with distinction than to live long.” (WHAT?!)

Consider, for example, those individuals who say grace before a meal…Said with these thoughts in mind, grace has the ability to transform an ordinary meal into a cause for celebration.