A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy
One of the most impactful book's I've read. Stoicism is the guiding philosophy of life, I never knew I was in search of. This ancient philosophy which originated out of Greece, and evangelized by the Roman's has stood the test of time with many principles and relevant pieces of life advice.
Irvine summarizes the core Stoic lessons and techniques for attaining tranquility and living the good life in modern times. Some big lessons I learn were how to minimize anxiety and worries, how to detach myself from past failures, and focus on the things within the realm of my control, as well as how to reduce negative emotions like anger, anxiety, fear, grief, and envy.
I found the book to be a good introduction to Stoicism before diving into some of the source material from Seneca, Marcus Aurelius and other Stoic Philosophers. I've read this book multiple times and it still has a strong impact on me and I come about with something new on each read.
“We humans are unhappy in large part because we are insatiable; after working hard to get what we want, we routinely lose interest in the object of our desire. Rather than feeling satisfied, we feel a bit bored, and in response to this boredom, we go on to form new, even grander desires.”William B. Irvine
"If you consider yourself a victim, you are not going to have a good life; if, however, you refuse to think of yourself as a victim—if you refuse to let your inner self be conquered by your external circumstances—you are likely to have a good life, no matter what turn your external circumstances take. (In particular, the Stoics thought it possible for a person to retain his tranquility despite being punished for attempting to reform the society in which he lived.)"William B. Irvine
“Stoicism, understood properly, is a cure for a disease. The disease in question is the anxiety, grief, fear, and various other negative emotions that plague humans and prevent them from experiencing a joyful existence.”William B. Irvine
“We are social creatures; we will be miserable if we try to cut off contact with other people. Therefore, if what we seek is tranquility, we should form and maintain relations with others. In doing so, though, we should be careful about whom we befriend. We should also, to the extent possible, avoid people whose values are corrupt, for fear that their values will contaminate ours. •”William B. Irvine
“Negative visualization, in other words, teaches us to embrace whatever life we happen to be living and to extract every bit of delight we can from it. But it simultaneously teaches us to prepare ourselves for changes that will deprive us of the things that delight us. It teaches us, in other words, to enjoy what we have without clinging to it.”William B. Irvine
Motivations to Read
I am very drawn to Stoicism and it's roots started with needing a way to survive my difficult circumstances growing up. My mind and emotions were in a constant flux and I realized despite all the chaos around me, most of my mental pain was self-inflicted. I didn't understand my triad of control at the time, until my teenage years. I wanted to immerse myself in more stoic reading but also wanted to understand it's context in modern days, so I found this book.
3 Reasons to Read
- Learn about Stoicism
- Acquire a philosophy of life that can help you become a thoughtful observer of your life
- Learn how to find your triad of control, reduce stress, manage your emotions and live a fulling life
A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy
Summary & Notes
What do you want out of your life?
Of the things in life you might pursue, which is the thing you believe to be most valuable?
This is your philosophy of life; a plan for living. Without one you risk mis-living life.
If one wants to take steps to avoid wasting their wealth, they might seeks out a financial planner/advisor. Taking steps to avoid wasting one’s life, “we might seek an expert to guide us: a philosopher of life. This individual would help us think about our goals in living and about which of these are in fact worth pursuing.”
Some goals or things that we value in life come in conflict with each other. We need to decide which of our goals should take precedence when conflicts arise.
The goal of living at the top is the goal that we should be unwilling to sacrifice to attain to attain other goals.
A guide to the Good Life is for those seeking a philosophy of life and advocates for Stoicism to be your guide.
“The Stoics realized that a life plagued with negative emotions — including anger, anxiety, fear, grief, and envy — will not be a good life. They therefore became acute observers of the workings of the human mind and as a result became some of the most insightful psychologists of the ancient world.”
Zen Buddhism & Stoicism
- They both stress the importance of contemplating the transitory nature of the world around us.
- Like Buddhists, Stoics advise us to contemplate the impermanence of things.
- The importance of mastering desire, to the extent that it is possible to do so.
- Both encourage the pursuit of tranquility and provide advice in how to attain and maintain it.
For the author he realized that Zen was incompatible with his personality as he felt we would have to give up his strong analytical nature for zen to work for him. Whereas he felt Stoicism enhanced his analytical nature.
Stoicism requires less time commitment than Zen Buddhism in terms of recommended methods to attain tranquility. Stoicism also seems to put more emphasis on the mind than the body; whereas Buddhism moves one to separate themselves from the hold of the mind.
- Negative Visualization
- Trichotomy of Control
- Internalize Goals
- Fatalism towards the Past & Present
- Stoic Meditation
Part One: The Rise of Stoicism
Philosophers across time
- Pythagoras (570–500 BC) in Italy
- Thales (636 - 546 BC)
- Anaximander (641–547 BC)
- Heracleitus (535 0 475 BC) in Greece
- Confucius (551 - 479 BC) in China
- Buddha (563 - 483 BC) in India
Philosopher became more mainstream with Socrates (469 - 399 BC). Ironically he was tried and found guilty for corrupting the youth of Athens and other alleged misdeeds, found guilty by his fellow citizens, and sentenced to die by drinking poison hemlock.
“Pre-Socratic philosophy begins … with the discovery of Nature; Socratic philosophy begins with the discovery of man’s soul.”
Socrates showed us what we don’t know about ourselves; something to think deeply about.
In Greece and Rome, with the spread of democracy meant that those who could persuade others had more power. Parents would invest in their child’s’ persuasive abilities and would hire philosophers to teach them the skills of persuasion, some also taught them how to live well. Parents who could not afford private tutors sent them to Schools of Philosophy.
In modern, times we do not have Philosophy Schools, but merely philosophy departments. For those seeking a philosophy of life in modern times, the best next thing would be to read the works of the philosophers who ran those ancient schools.
The First Stoics
Zeno [Zeno of Citium] (333–261 B.C)
Zeno’s father was a merchant and would bring him books from his travels. Zeno liked the books of Philosophy and those from Athens. On Zeno’s travels he shipwrecked in Athens and decided to stay and take advantage of the philosophical resources of the city. Zeno soon became a student of the Cynics and studied under Crates. They dressed in poor cloaks and wandered the streets, but they were also known for there wit and wisdom.
One of the cynics, Antishenes advised, “pay attention to your enemies, for they are the first to discover your mistakes.”
Zeno broke off from the Cynics to learn more philosophical theory. His school of philosophy and followers would be initially known as Zenonians, but because they frequently gave lectures in the Stoa Poikile, they subsequently became known as the Stoics. The Stoics were more favorable than the Cynics because they allowed for more comforts.
“Zeno’s philosophy had ethical, physical, and logical components. Those who studied Stoicism under him started with logic, moved on to physics, and ended with ethics.”
Sage — The perfect Stoic
“A Stoic sage, according to Diogenes Laertius, is ”free from vanity; for he is indifferent to good or evil report.“ He never feels grief, since he realizes that grief is an ”irrational contraction of the soul.“ His conduct is exemplary. He doesn’t let anything stop him from doing his duty. Although he drinks wine, he doesn’t do so in order to get drunk. The Stoic sage is, in short, ”godlike.“”
“Such godlikeness, the Stoics will be the first to admit, is exceedingly rare. For the Stoics, however, the near impossibility of becoming a sage is not a problem. They talk about sages primarily so they will have a model to guide them in their practice of Stoicism. The sage is a target for them to aim at, even though they will probably fail to hit it. The sage, in other words, is to Stoicism as Buddha is to Buddhism. Most Buddhists can never hope to become as enlightened as Buddha, but nevertheless, reflecting on Buddha’s perfection can help them gain a degree of enlightenment.”
How to live a good life?
Live with virtue, which is living as human’s were designed to live; in accordance with nature. A big way we are different from animals is that we have the ability to reason. The Stoics conclude that were are thus designed to be reasonable. Since we are also designed to be social creatures, we have a social duty to each other.
Roman Stoics had less confidence than the Greeks Stoics in people’s ability to use pure reason to motivate people towards virtue, instead they promoted aiming for tranquility.
“Seneca tells his friend Lucilius that if he wishes to practice Stoicism, he will have to make it his business to ”learning how to feel joy."
The Greek Stoics primary ethical goal was the attainment of virtue. The Roman Stoics added a second goal, attaining tranquility. Tranquility for them is a psychological state marked by the absence of negative emotions, such as grief, anger, and anxiety, and the presence of positive emotions such as joy.
The Most Important Roman Stoics
- Seneca - The best writer of the bunch. His letters and essays to Lucilius form a strong introduction to Roman Stoicism.
- Musonius Rufus - notable for his pragmatism: He offered detailed advice on how practicing Stoics should eat, what they should wear, how they should behave toward their parents, and even how they should conduct their sex life.
- Epictetus - his speciality was analysis: He explained, among other things, why practicing Stoicism can bring us tranquility.
- Marcus Aurelius - wrote the Meditations, a kind of diary, giving us a look inside the thoughts of a practicing Stoic. He searches for Stoic solutions to the problems of daily life as well as the problems he encountered as emperor of Rome.
“Marcus, wrote the historian Edward Gibbon, was the last of the Five Good Emperors (the other four being Nervam Trajan, Hadrian, and Antoninus) who ruled from 96 - 180 and brought about ”the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous." [..]
Marcus is , in other words, a rare example of a philosopher king and perhaps the only example of a philosopher whom subjects wanted to have as their king.
Part Two: Stoic Psychological Techniques
No matter how hard we try to prevent bad things from happening to us, some will happen anyway. The stoics use negative visualization to imagine what is the worst that can happen.
If we think about the bad things, we can lessen the impact on us mentally.
“He robs present ills of their power who has perceived their coming beforehand.”
Reasons for negative visualization:
- Prevent Bad Things from Happening
- Reduce the impact that negative things have on us
- Learn to appreciate the things you already have by imagining the loss of it.
“We humans are unhappy in large part because we are insatiable; after working hard to get what we want, we routinely lose interest in the object of our desire. Rather than feeling satisfied, we feel a bit bored, and in response to this boredom, we go on to form new, even grander desires.”
The author, William Irvine, believes Negative Visualization to be the most powerful technique in the stoic’ psychological toolkit. I also see promising results, but find it very difficult to do if you get paralyzed by fear or get too attached with the visualizations you create.
“They [The Stoics] recommended that we spend time imagining that we have lost the things we value — that our wife has left us, our car was stolen, or we lost our job. Doing this, the Stoics thought will make us value our wife, our car, and our job more than we otherwise would.”
Stoic philosopher Epictetus, also recommended that among the losses we contemplate should be our own deaths. With this in mind we should live our lives as if we were in our very last moments.
“To them, living as if each day were our last is simply an extension of the negative visualization technique: As we go about our day, we should periodically pause to reflect the fact that we will not live forever and therefore that this day could be our last. Such reflection, rather than converting us into hedonists, will make us appreciate how wonderful it is that we are alive and have the opportunity to fill this day with activity. This in turn will make it less likely that we will squander our days.”
Negative Visualization is the tool to combat Hedonic Adaptation.
Stoic philosophy is not exclusively rich person’s philosophy and negative philosophy is not tied to material loss. One can imagine the loss of there sight and better appreciate the gift of seeing. If a person has lost another body part, that person can find peace in appreciation for what they have left.
Other philosophies and religions have similar forms of negative visualization that focus on gratitude, all are an option of method for regaining of appreciation for life and increasing our capacity for joy.
Projective Visualization: Imagining bad things that happened to us, happened to others, creating space to take things less personality and better weigh their significance in the grander scheme of things.
Through contemplating the impermanence of things we can invest and cherish with more intensity in the people and things around us in the present.
The Dichotomy of Control
“Our most important choice in life, according to Epictetus, is whether to concern ourselves with things external to us or things internal. [..] (A Stoic) would look for all benefit and harm to come from himself.”
Instead of seeking contentment by trying to change the world around you, start by changing yourself, specifically your desires.
“Your primary desire, says Epictetus, should be your desire not to be frustrated by forming desires you won’t be able to fulfill. [..] If you succeed in doing this, you will no longer experience anxiety about whether or not you will get what you want; nor will you experience disappointment on not getting what you want.”
Ephictetus’s dichotomy of control: “Some things are up to us and some things aren’t up to us.”
Turning the dichotomy of control in a trichotomy.
The Trichotomy of Control
- Things over which we have complete control (such as the goals we set for ourselves)
- Things over which we have no control at all (such as whether the sun rises tomorrow)
- Things over which we have some but not complete control (such as whether we win while playing tennis)
We are would be wasting precious emotional and mental energy worrying about things that are not up to us. Unfortunately, we do a lot of worrying about things out of our control.
For example we have no control whether the sun will rise tomorrow. It seems silly, but there are similar categories of things other people worry about. We have no control over what others think about us, but people spend an enormous amount of time and energy worrying what others think about them, when it’s out of their control. What you can control is how you cultivate your character and this may influence other’s perceptions of you, but you still can’t control their thoughts.
“Some” things we have control over
- We have complete control over our goals, in that for the most part we set them.
- We have control over our values.
- We control over our opinions. We have control over our character.
When you are dealing with things that blur the line of things which you have control over but can also be partial control, choose to frame internal rather than external goals.
For example in you’re competing, the external goal would be to win the match (something you have partial control over), the internal goal would be to play the best of your ability in the match (something you have a large degree or complete control over). When you set internal goals you minimize frustration and disappointment from trying to control something you couldn’t control.
“The Stoics realized that our internal goals will affect our external performance, but they also realized that the goals we consciously set for ourselves can have a dramatic impact on our subsequent emotional state.”
Categories of Things
Things over which we
have complete control
The goals we set for ourselves, the values we form
We should concern ourselves with these things.
Things over which we
have no control at all
Whether the sun will rise tomorrow
We should not concern ourselves with these things.
Things over which we have some but not complete control
Whether we win while playing tennis
We should concern ourselves with these things, but we should be careful to internalize the goals we form with respect to them.
“Stoics found a way to retain their tranquility despite their involvement with the world around them: They internalized their goals. Their goal was not to change the world, but to do their best to bring about certain changes. Even if their efforts proved to be ineffectual, they could nevertheless rest easy knowing that they had accomplished their goal: They had done what they could.”
“According the Seneca, we should offer ourselves to fate, inasmuch as ‘it is a great consolation that it is together with the universe we are swept along.’ According to Epictetus, we should keep firmly in mind that we are merely actors in a play written by someone else — more precisely, the fates.”
“In particular, if we reject the decrees of fate, Marcus says, we are likely to experience tranquility-disrupting grief, anger, or fear. To avoid this, we must learn to adapt ourselves to the environment into which fate has placed us and do our best to love the people with whom fate has surrounded us. We must learn to welcome whatever falls to our lot and persuade ourselves that whatever happens to us is for the best.”
The Stoics advocated for fatalism towards the past and present, there are things you can change and act on in the future. The past has already happened, it can’t be changed. You don’t have complete control over the present in this very moment.
“The fatalism advocated by the Stoics is in a sense the reverse, or one might say the mirror image, of negative visualization: Instead of thinking about how our situation could be worse, we refuse to think about how it could be better.”
Stoics on ambition when so keen to accepting things as they are
“Stoic Philosophy, while teaching us to be satisfied with whatever we’ve got, also counsels us to seek certain things in life. We should, for example, strive to become better people — to become virtuous in the ancient sense of the word. [..] Seneca advises us to be ”attentive to all the advantages that adorn life.“”
Even though the Stoics didn’t seek worldly success, they often gained it anyway.
As an extension of negative visualization, “Besides contemplating bad things happening, we should sometimes live as if they had happened.”
If our fear is poverty, practicing periodic poverty in which you put yourself in a controlled situation to step away from your comforts to learn gratitude for what you have can be a powerful learning experience.
Three benefits from acts of voluntary discomfort
- We harden ourselves against misfortunes that might befall us in the future. If all we know is comfort, we might be traumatized when we are forced to experience pain or discomfort.
- Training to withstand minor discomfort builds confidence that one can potentially withstand major discomforts as well, reducing the anxiety if they were to come about.
- It helps us appreciate what we already have.
Stoics also warn against the dangers of pursuing pleasure. Especially the kind of pleasures can can engulf us in a single swoop (drugs).
If we don’t have self-control and can’t resist certain pleasures, we will become a slave to it.
The Stoics even made a point of sometimes abstaining from relatively harmless pleasures, as a way to train their self-control.
“What Stoics discover, though, is that willpower is like muscle power: The more they exercise their muscles, the stronger they get, and the more they exercise their will, the stronger it gets. [..] They will be able to do things that others dread doing, and they will be able to refrain from doing things that others cannot resist doing. They will, as a result, be thoroughly in control of themselves.”
Foregoing pleasure and realizing your self-control can it’s own rights be pleasurable.
Meditation - Watching Ourselves Practice Stoicism
Seneca advises that we periodically meditate on the events of daily living, how we responded to these events, and how, in accordance with Stoic principles, we should have responded to them.
Epictetus added that we should create within ourselves a Stoic observer who watches us and comments on our attempts to practice Stoicism.
We should also be careful observers of other people’s actions, we can learn from their mistakes and their successes.
“The most important sign that we are making progress as Stoics, though, is a change in our emotional life. It isn’t as those ignore of the true nature of Stoicism commonly believe, that we will stop experiencing emotions. We will instead find ourselves experiencing fewer negative emotions. We will also find that we are spending less time that we used to wishing things could be different and more time enjoying things as they are. [..] For the ultimate proof that we have made progress as Stoics, we will have to wait until we are faced with death. It is only then, says Seneca, that we will know whether our Stoicism has been genuine.”
“The Stoics, though, would be the first to admit that people can’t perfect their Stoicism overnight. Indeed, even if we practice Stoicism all our life, we are unlikely to perfect it; there will always be room for improvement.”
In Seneca’s personal life he found his progress sufficient, “everyday I reduce the number of my vices, and blame my mistakes.”
Part Three: Stoic Advice
Duty - On Loving Mankind
“On examining life, we will find that other people are the source of some of the greatest delights life has to offer, including love and friendship. But we will also discover that they are the cause of most of the negative emotions we experience.”
We want people to think well of us, and so we spend a lot of time and energy trying to impress or gain the attention and goodwill of others. Much of this can cause a great deal of anxiety and stress.
The Stoics believed that man is by nature a social animal and has a duty to form and maintain a relationship with other people.
“Our primary function, the Stoics thought, is to be rational. To discover our secondary functions, we need only apply our reasoning ability. What we will discover is that we were designed to live among other people and interact with them in a manner that is mutually advantageous;…”
Marcus Aurelius points out that we shouldn’t do our social duty in a selective manner, in that we can’t always avoid people we don’t want to deal with. Each Stoic had there own obstacle in their Stoic practice.
The author points out this is ironic for Marcus because in his texts we see that he had an intense dislike of humanity. So he would of had the most difficulty towards the duty of loving mankind. Marcus would be also known for not turning his back on his fellow humans. He wasn’t motivated by punishment of not doing duty, but had an internal motivational reward of doing his social duty being rewarded with a good life.
The stoics felt that there tranquility was at risk associating with other people, but also realized they would be failing to do their social duty of forming and maintaining relationships by being in isolation.
They believed we can’t be selective in our social duty, but we can be selective about who we befriend. They recommended that we avoid befriending people whose values have been corrupted.
“Vices, Seneca warns, are contagious: They spread, quickly and unnoticed, from those who have them to those with whom they come into contact.”
“Seneca advises us to avoid people who are simply whiny, ”who are melancholy and bewail everything, who find pleasure in every opportunity for complaint.“”
Besides being selective about the people we befriend, we should be selective about which social functions we attend. Some social groups might have conversations that could containment one’s values.
Stoics on Insults
- Reflect on the truthiness of the insult, and don’t be insulted by what is self-evident.
- If an insulter is wrong, you can consider correcting them.
- Don’t confuse an insult with constructive criticism, if it could be worded in a better way, state that but don’t get upset about it.
- Don’t feel insulted by an immature adult, in the same way a mother wouldn’t feel insulted by her baby.
- Be aware that you see the value and damage level on how you perceive an insult.
- Use comedy to defuse insults.
- Sometimes the best response is silence and a cool demeanor.
When insulted people tend to become anger, but anger can upset our tranquility, so the stoics developed strategies around preventing the sting of insults.
“One of their sting-elimination strategies is to pause, when insulted, to consider whether what the insulter said is true. If it is, there is little reason to be upset. Suppose, for example, that someone mocks us for being bald when we in fact are bald: ‘Why is it an insult,’ Seneca asks, ‘to be told what is self-evident?’”
“Another sting-elimination strategy, suggested by Epictetus is to pause to consider how well-informed the insulter is. He might be saying something bad about us not because he wants to hurt our feelings but because he sincerely believes what he is saying[..] Rather than getting angry at this person for his honesty, we should calmly set him straight.”
“consider the source of an insult. If I respect the source, if I value his opinions, then his critical remarks shouldn’t upset me.[..] if I am serious about learning [..] I should thank him for criticizing me.”
“When we consider the sources of insults, says Seneca, we will often find that those who insult us can best be described as overgrown children. In the same way that a mother would be foolish to let the ‘insults’ of her toddler upset her, we would be foolish to let the insults of these childish adults upset us.”
“If we can convince ourselves that a person has done us no harm by insulting us, his insult will carry no sting.”
Epictetus also says, “What upsets people is not things themselves but their judgments about these things.”
Another way Stoics handled insults is with humor.
“By laughing off an insult, we are implying that we don’t take the insulter and his insults seriously.”
The is a problem with the humor approach:
“The problem with replying to insults with humor is that doing so requires both wit and presence of mind.[..] The Stoics realized this and as a result advocated a second way to respond to insults: with no response at all. [..] we are robbing them of the pleasure of having upset us, and he is likely to be upset as a result.”
Grief - On Vanquishing Tears with Reason
“The belief that Stoics never grieve, although widely held, is mistaken. Emotions such as grief, the Stoics understood, are to some extent reflexive. [..] Seneca write, ”Nature requires from us some sorrow, while more than this is the result of vanity. But never will I demand of you that you should not grieve at all.“”
The stoics main grief-prevention strategy was to engage in negative visualization.
Earlier in the notes, I referred to negative visualization in the prospective (future) oriented form.
Prospective Negative Visualization: we imagine losing something we currently posses.
Retrospective Negative Visualization: (past) we imagine never having had something that we have lost.
“By engaging in retrospective negative visualization, Seneca thinks, we can replace our feelings of regret at having lost something with feelings of thanks for once having had it.”
Anger - On Overcoming Anti-Joy
“Anger, says Seneca, is ‘brief insanity,’ and the damage done by anger is enormous: ‘No plague has cost the human race more.’ [..] We live in a world, after all, in which there is much to be angry about, meaning that unless we can learn to control our anger, we will be perpetually angry. Being angry, Seneca concludes, is a waste of precious time.”
Seneca’s advice on preventing anger:
- Don’t jump to conclusions about believing the worst in others and their intentions.
- Don’t become too overly sensitive, overly sensitive people anger easily. Take steps to ensure you don’t get too comfortable or pampered.
- Things that anger us generally don’t do us any real harm; they are instead mere annoyances. Don’t get angry over the little things.
- Humor can also be used to prevent ourselves from becoming angry.
- If you still find yourself angry, remember that your anger can insight anger in others.
- Changing your body posture can also help in reducing anger. Relax your face, remember to breath, soften your voice or slow your pace of walking.
Marcus Aurelius recommends that we contemplate the impermanence of the world around us, and we will realize the things we over inflate as being important are not that important in the grander scheme things of things.
Personal Values - On Seeking Fame
“Stoic value their freedom, and they are therefore reluctant to do anything that will give others power over them. But if we seek social status, we give other people power over us: We have to do things calculated to make them admire us, and we have to refrain from doing things that will trigger their disfavor.”
On immortal fame:
“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 the future generations will praise us, without even having met us..”
“Marcus says, we would do well to concern ourselves with our present situation; we should, he advises, ‘make the best of today.’”
The Stoics realized that in order to win the admiration of other people we would have to adopt their values. We should stop to ask whether the admiration of these other people and their notion of success is compatible with ours and if whatever they are pursuing is also leading to the tranquility we seek.
“Another way to overcome our obsession with winning the admiration of other people is go to our of our own way to do things likely to trigger their disdain.”
Ironically, by refusing to seek the admiration of other people stoics (and you) might succeed in gaining their admiration as a result of your self-confidence and sense of purpose and direction.
“Epictetus encourages us to keep in mind that self-respect, trustworthiness, and high-mindedness are more valuable than wealth, meaning that if the only way to gain wealth is to give up these personal characteristics, we would be foolish to seek wealth.”
“Even though she doesn’t pursue wealth, a Stoic might nevertheless acquire it. A Stoic will after all, do what she can to make herself useful to her fellow humans.”
Stoicism doesn’t ask one to renounce their wealth if them come upon it. It does ask one to be mindful that they can lose it, and be self-ware of how the wealth is impacting their character and capacity to enjoy life.
“More generally, it is perfectly acceptable, says Seneca, for a Stoic to acquire wealth, as long as he does not harm others to obtain it. It is also acceptable for a Stoic to enjoy wealth, as long as he is careful not to cling to it.”
The Buddhist viewpoint regarding wealth lines up with the stoic view.
Stoics are also accepting if one stumbles upon fame, but warns there is a danger just like how wealth can corrupt us so can fame. Both can generate a strong desire to gain more of it.
Old Age - [Feelings]
“Consider list, the desire for sexual gratification. Lust is, for many people — and for males in particular, I think — a major distraction in daily living. [..] the feelings themselves seem to be hardwired into us.”
“As we age, though, our feelings of lust and the state of distraction that accompanies them diminish. [..] Seneca points out that by causing our bodies to deteriorate, old age causes our vices and their accessories to decay. (The same process doesn’t always cause our minds to decay; which is good.)”
“In our youth, because we assumed that we would live forever, we took our days for granted and as a result wasted many of them. In our old age, however, waking up each morning can be a cause for celebration.”
Dying - On a Good End to a Good Life
“What makes old age a miserable thing, Musonius says, usually isn’t the frailty or sickness that accompanies it; rather, it is the prospect of dying. [..] Someone with a coherent philosophy of life will know what in life is worth attaining, and because this person has spent time trying to attain the thing in life he believed to be worth attaining, he has probably attained it, to the extent that it was possible for him to do so.”
“When Stoics contemplate their own death, it is not because they long for death but because they want to get the most out of life.”
On Becoming a Stoic - Start Now and Prepare to Be Mocked
“The most important reason for adopting a philosophy of life, though, is that if we lack one, there is a danger that we will mislive — that we will spend our life pursuing goals that aren’t worth attaining or will pursue worthwhile goals in a foolish manner and will therefore fail to attain them.”
The Benefits the Stoics Discovered
- Becoming more virtuous, in the ancient sense of the word.
- Fewer negative emotions such as anger, grief, disappointment and anxiety, leading to more tranquility.
- More delight in the world around us.
“Practicing Stoicism, he adds, is like training for the Olympics but with one important difference: Whereas the Olympic contests for which we might train will be held at some future date, the contest that is our life has already begun. Consequently, we do not have the luxury of posting our training: we must start it this very day.”
Part Four: Stoicism for Modern Lives
The Decline of Stoicism
Stoicism started to decline after the rise of Christianity. The main draw to Christianity to people back then, was the promise of life after death, which Stoics had no answer for.
“Although the Stoics’ advice on how to best deal with negative emotions is old-fashioned, it would nevertheless appear to be good advice. According to Seneca, ”A man is wretched as he has convinced himself that he is.“”
“Many of us have been persuaded that happiness is something that someone else, a therapist or a politician, must confer on us. Stoicism rejects this notion. It teaches us that we are very much responsibility for our happiness as well as our unhappiness. It also teaches us that it is only when we assume responsibility for our happiness that we will have a reasonable chance of gaining it.”
Advice for those seeking tranquility
- Become self-aware. We should observe ourselves as we go about our daily business, and we should periodically reflect on how we respond to the day’s events.
- We should use our reasoning ability to overcome negative emotions. We should also use our reasoning ability to master our desires, to the extent that it is possible to do so.
- If we find ourselves becoming wealthy, we should enjoy our affluence, but be cautious not to cling to it and we should also contemplate losing it.
- We are social creations; we will be miserable if we try to cut off contact with other people. However, we should to a certain degree avoid people whose values are corrupt for prevention that their values may contaminate ours.
- You control the sting of insults.
- The Stoics pointed to two principal sources of human unhappiness — our insatiability and our tendency to worry about things beyond our control.
- To conquer our insatiability, the Stoics advice that we engage in negative visualization. We should contemplate the impermanence of all things. We should imagine ourselves losing the things we most value. We should also imagine the loss of our own life. If we do this, we will come to appreciate the things we now have and appreciate them more.
- To curb our tendency to worry about things beyond our control, the Stoics advice us to perform a kind of triage with respect to the elements of our life and sort them into those we have no control over; those we have complete control over, and those we have some but not complete control over. We should not worry about the things we have no control over.
- When we spend time dealing with things over which we have some but not complete control, we should be careful to internalize our goals.
- We should be fatalistic with respect to the external world: We should realize that what has happened to us in the past and what is happening to us at this very moment are beyond our control, so it foolish to get upset about these things.
“The Stoics regarded the principles of Stoicism not as being chiseled into stone but as being molded into clay that could, within limits, be remodeled into a form of Stoicism that people would find useful.”
Practice one Stoic technique at a time. Practice Stoicism in stealth, without letting too many people know you’re practicing, so you can practice without the mixed perceptions.
The author recommends one to start with negative visualizations, then after you have that understood, develop a deeper understanding of your triad of control. You can develop the rest as you see fit.
An ironic side effect of the practice of Stoicism is that you are constantly preparing for hardship, for example through negative visualizations or self-denial building your character and waited to be tested. If hardship doesn’t come there is a curious slight feeling of disappointment, you want to put your strength on display.