Book review: A Guide to the Good Life
Immediately upon finishing this book, I knew that I would be rereading it before long. I found it deeply inspirational, and it contained lots of useful advice that resonated with me instantly.
I don’t expect this book to be for everyone. Also, I do not expect to take everything from it to heart myself. But already now, just a few days after reading the last pages, I find myself thinking about parts of it over and over again and applying it to my life and to my thought process.
Like most other people, I had a preconceived notion of what Stoicism is, and I was completely wrong. I agree completely with the author that it makes sense to dig up these ancient nuggets of wisdom and consider them in a modern context.
I have just entered my forties, and I have found myself thinking more about existential questions over the last few years. I do not wonder about the Meaning of Life in general, but I very much ponder the meaning of my own life. Am I happy with where I am now? What is really important to me? Wealth? Security? Love? Recognition? I am actually very satisfied with my life, but why is this the case?
I believe that most people reach a point in their life where they start thinking about these things much more than they used to. I have a family now, and I am no longer in the beginning of my career. My situation is very different than it was 10 years ago. I do not fear my future, but I do fear spending my time in a way that I will later come to regret.
This is a natural process, and the rational reaction is to embrace it and reflect on these questions. I consider myself to be a deeply rational person, and I enjoy taking an analytical approach to my activities and to the way I spend my time. This is not to say that I insist on everything I do being a step on the way to reach some concrete goal. But I do increasingly insist on everything being meaningful.
For example, listening to music gives me great pleasure, although it probably does not bring me closer to any concrete goal in my life. The important thing, in very simple terms, is to be happy here and now. We should strive to be free of regrets and to enjoy the privileges we have here and now.
I could go on for a while, but William B. Irvine explains these things much better than I could. I just wanted to give you a glimpse of the reflections this book provoked in me. It made me think again about my life and my values.
Much of the book is, naturally, a history of Stoicism and a thorough exploration of its fundamentals. It contains many references to, and quotes from, ancient philosophers. To be quite honest, I found this part of the book a bit hard to get through. I am not used to reading about history, and I found it difficult to juggle the names and quotations in sometimes quite obscure language. I realize that the historic context is valuable in understanding the philosophy, but I sometimes found myself wishing for more practical examples and fewer quotes from the original texts. However, the book is well-written, so this is probably just me being impatient and a beginner to reading books like this one. Also, lots of practical advice is given in the last third of the book, so this is a minor (and perhaps unfair) complaint.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who find themselves reflecting on what is valuable and meaningful in their life, regardless of age.
You can find the book on Goodreads.