Book Review: A Guide to the Good Life (The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy) by William B. Irvine
For me, A Guide to the Good Life fostered a much-needed visceral sense of profound gratitude. Don’t get me wrong. Cognitively I am always acutely aware that I won the “life lottery”; I was born in Canada, at a time when women can (for the most part) have the same opportunities as their male counterparts, to a wonderful and supportive family. Plus, for the icing on the cake, I met my life partner, James, in high school. I am a lucky duck. I have everything to be grateful for, yet sometimes I take my life for granted — I am short with my mom, I don’t tell James I love him, and I complain about being tired from long days at work. I don’t think this is uncommon. Many of us have a way of taking our norms — no matter how wonderful — for granted. This is often called “hedonic adaptation” or “the hedonistic treadmill.” In short, humans have a way of wanting something because we think it will make us happy and, when we get it, adapting to that new normal and wanting something else. Most of us — ME included — need to work on being happy with where we are. This doesn’t mean “not striving for success”; it just means being joyful as we strive and grow.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am determined to find (and, when needed, create) joy in my life. It’s almost an obsession. I am wired — at least mildly — towards depression, but I refuse to be a depressed person. I refuse to be a depressed person because I was a depressed teenager and (to put it mildly) “it sucked” — both for me and everyone around me. Reading A Guide to the Good Life has, at least slightly, increased my baseline normal mood and reminded me to show the people in my life that I love and appreciate them rather than simply professing love and gratitude. (Love has to be expressed through action, not simply through words.)
How can reading A Guide to the Good Life help when adopting a healthier lifestyle?
Who wants to be miserable while attempting to overhaul their health? Not me! Being miserable will not help anyone adopt healthier habits.
The trick to “Finding Your Fit” is — at least in part — enjoying the process.
Too many of us frame adopting a healthier lifestyle as yet another obligation. This often makes us resentful, which in turn makes us fall off our health horse; our inner “rebel” turns up to “fight” the obligation of health. My suggestion: Use the information within A Guide to the Good Life to reframe your health process; learn to be grateful for the ability to choose healthy food, grateful for the ability to go for a walk, and privileged to be alive. Letting go of resentment — being happy in the now — will make adopting a healthier lifestyle easier not harder. Read A Guide to the Good Life and learn how to strive for improved health while simultaneously feeling joy and gratitude.
Favourite life lesson
Think of anger, resentment, frustration, etc. (all those negative emotions that are opposite to the stoic goal of tranquility) as akin to scratching a mosquito bite. Itching may feel good in the moment, but it leaves welts and redness. Your future self will be unhappy that you gave in to an urge for momentary satisfaction. This “mosquito bite” analogy can be used for giving into almost all unhealthy temptations. You may want to skip your workout or binge on chocolate cake now, but your future self will NOT be happy. First, put a bandaid over the bite — e.g., don’t bring the cake into the house and/or have a workout buddy booked so you can’t miss your workout — and then do something that gets your mind off the urge to scratch/binge/skip the workout.