Ancient Art of Stoic Joy Book CoverThis is my book summary of A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy (by William B. Irvine). This is one of very few books that completely changed my thinking on life–I believe Stoicism and modern simple living go hand in hand. The book is available on Amazon.

Summary notes below. All emphasis mine.


If you lack a great goal of living, you lack a coherent philosophy of life.

What is the thing you believe to be the most valuable?

Desire no joys greater than your inner joys.

Pay attention to your enemies, for they are the first to discover your mistakes.

Hunger is the best appetizer: you will enjoy the food no matter what.

Tranquility: few negative emotions (anxiety, grief, fear) but an abundance of positive emotions (joy)
– drive away all that excites or frightens you.

Easiest way to gain happiness is to want the things you already have.
– We take for granted what ancestors had to live without.

Do not over-love the things you enjoy. Be the user, not the slave, of the gifts of fortune.

Want only those things that are easy to obtain. Want only those things you can be certain of obtaining.

If you refuse to enter contests you are capable of losing, you will never lose a contest.

Refuse to compare your situation with alternative, preferable situations.

Periodically practice poverty – content yourself with cheap fare and rough dress.

Ensure you never get too comfortable. Don’t allow yourself to be corrupted by pleasure.

By experiencing minor discomforts, you train yourself to be courageous.

Willpower is like muscle power: the more you exercise your will, the stronger it gets.

Blame yourself, not others, when your desires are thwarted.

Do things that others dread doing, and refrain from doing what others cannot resist doing.

Shrug off insults and slights, shrug off any praise. Dismiss approval and disapproval.
– Refusing to respond to an insult is one the most effective responses.

When you associate with other people, remain true to who you are.

Social fatalism: when dealing with others, assume they are fated to behave in a certain way.

Imagine that you never had something that you have lost. Just feel thankful that you once had it.

The price of fame is so high that it outweighs any benefits. Don’t seek social status, i.e. enslavement.

Not needing wealth is more important than wealth itself:
– A luxurious lifestyle makes you less likely to enjoy the pleasure of simple things
– Dress/housing should be functional, and not designed to impress others

Someone who thinks he will live forever is more likely to waste his days! Understand that your days are numbered.

When someone dies, think: “is this [grieving] what they would want me to do? No! They would want me to be happy. The best way to honor her memory is to leave off grieving and get on with life.”

We must misuse our intellect: instead of using it to devise clever strategies to get more of everything, we must use it to overcome our tendency toward insatiability.

A calm life is disquieting because we are unaware of whether we would remain strong in a tempest.

Spend the time to acquire a philosophy of life.


Read other reviews and notes on the book’s Amazon page.