Wednesday, March 02, 2016

A Guide to the Good Life: the ancient art of Stoic joy

by William Braxton Irvine

I really dig this book. It inspired me to quit drinking alcohol for a month (to prove I could, as an exercise in self-control, and to enhance my enjoyment of drinking when I did do it). The ideas of Stoic philosophy from the ancient Greeks and Romans line up with things I've learned from meditation and psychology and biology about dealing with negative emotions and unhelpful thinking patterns.

Many people think of philosophy as mere mental masturbation, but in the olden days it was very much about how to live and what ways of looking at the world and what kinds of behavior and beliefs would lead to happiness. Stoic philosophy in particular is very practical, with specific techniques and practices you can use every day. And, contrary to popular belief, it is not all about denial of enjoyment and being an emotionless robot; instead, it's about not letting emotions control you and about appreciating things more by contemplating (and sometimes experiencing) their absence. Of course, reading the whole book is a much better and complete explanation.

I highly recommend this book. I haven't adopted the philosophy completely, but I do think about it frequently. I have experienced the benefits of occasional or periodic abstention and testing of willpower. Other people don't always get it, though, and in fact the author advises not talking about your Stoic practice too much, since a cursory explanation can easily give people the wrong idea. This is a book I would consider actually buying and re-reading.

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