A Guide to the Good Life
A Guide to the Good Life

A Guide to the Good Life

Table of Contents

Many people will have trouble naming this goal.

They know what they want minute by minute or even decade by decade during their life, but they have never paused to consider their grand goal in living. It is perhaps understandable that they haven’t.

But a grand goal in living is the first component of a philosophy of life. This means that if you lack a grand goal in living, you lack a coherent philosophy of life. (Location 72)

Tags: goals

Note: Most people never consider their grand goal in life

A life plagued with negative emotions—including anger, anxiety, fear, grief, and envy—will not be a good life. They developed techniques for preventing the onset of negative emotions and for extinguishing them when attempts at prevention failed. (Location 120)

Tags: emotions, negativity

...the default philosophy of life: to spend one’s days seeking an interesting mix of affluence, social status, and pleasure. (Location 128)

Stoicism and Zen have certain things in common. They both, for example, stress the importance of contemplating the transitory nature of the world around us and the importance of mastering desire, to the extent that it is possible to do so. (Location 138)

Tags: desires

the goal of the Stoics was not to banish emotion from life but to banish negative emotions. (Location 146)

Tags: favorite, stoicism, negativity

One wonderful way to tame our tendency to always want more is to persuade ourselves to want the things we already have. (Location 165)

Tags: desires

Note: Want what we already have

Many of the things we desire—most notably, fame and fortune—are not worth pursuing.

We will instead turn our attention to the pursuit of tranquility and what the Stoics called virtue. We will discover that Stoic virtue has very little in common with what people today mean by the word. We will also discover that the tranquility the Stoics sought is not the kind of tranquility that might be brought on by the ingestion of a tranquilizer; it is not, in other words, a zombie-like state. It is instead a state marked by the absence of negative emotions such as anger, grief, anxiety, and fear, and the presence of positive emotions—in particular, joy. (Location 184)

Tags: desires

Although modern philosophers tend to spend their days debating esoteric topics, the primary goal of most ancient philosophers was to help ordinary people live better lives. Stoicism, as we shall see, was one of the most popular and successful of the ancient schools of philosophy. (Location 217)

Tags: philosophy

ONE Philosophy Takes an Interest in Life...

However and whenever it may have started, philosophical thinking took a giant leap forward in the sixth century BC. We find Pythagoras (570–500 BC) philosophizing in Italy; Thales (636–546 BC), Anaximander (641–547 BC), and Heracleitus (535–475 BC) in Greece; Confucius (551–479 BC) in China; and Buddha (563–483 BC) in India. It isn’t clear whether these individuals discovered philosophy independently of one another; nor is it clear which direction philosophical influence flowed, if it indeed flowed. (Location 239)

After his death, Socrates’ many followers not only continued to do philosophy but attracted followers of their own. Plato, the best-known of his students, founded the school of philosophy known as the Academy, Aristippus founded the Cyrenaic school, Euclides founded the Megarian school, Phaedo founded the Elian school, and Antisthenes founded the Cynic school. What had been a trickle of philosophical activity before Socrates became, after his death, a veritable torrent. (Location 252)

It is as if Socrates, on his death, had fissioned into Plato and Antisthenes, with Plato inheriting Socrates’ interest in theory and Antisthenes inheriting his concern with living a good life. It would have been wonderful if these two sides of philosophy had flourished in subsequent millennia, inasmuch as people benefit from both philosophical theorizing and the application of philosophy to their own life. Unfortunately, although the theoretical side of philosophy has flourished, the practical side has withered away. (Location 272)

Some of the parents who wanted a philosophical education for their child hired a philosopher to act as live-in tutor; Aristotle, for example, was hired by King Philip of Macedon to tutor Alexander, who subsequently became “the Great.” Parents who could not afford a private tutor would have sent their sons—but probably not their daughters—to a school of philosophy. (Location 290)

Their pastor might tell them what they must do to be a good person, that is, what they must do to be morally upstanding. They might be instructed, for example, not to steal or tell lies or (in some religions) have an abortion. Their pastor will also probably explain what they must do to have a good afterlife: They should come to services regularly and pray and (in some religions) tithe. But their pastor will probably have relatively little to say on what they must do to have a good life. (Location 302)

This, one imagines, is why the adherents of the various religions, despite the differences in their religious beliefs, end up with the same impromptu philosophy of life, namely, a form of enlightened hedonism. Thus, although Lutherans, Baptists, Jews, Mormons, and Catholics hold different religious views, they are remarkably alike when encountered outside of church or synagogue. They hold similar jobs and have similar career ambitions. They live in similar homes, furnished in a similar manner. And they lust to the same degree for whatever consumer products are currently in vogue. (Location 311)

Tags: consumerism

Those schools that offered students a philosophy of life differed in the philosophy they recommended. The Cyrenaics, for example, thought the grand goal in living was the experience of pleasure and therefore advocated taking advantage of every opportunity to experience it. The Cynics advocated an ascetic lifestyle: If you want a good life, they argued, you must learn to want next to nothing. The Stoics fell somewhere between the Cyrenaics and the Cynics: They thought people should enjoy the good things life has to offer, including friendship and wealth, but only if they did not cling to these good things. Indeed, they thought we should periodically interrupt our enjoyment of what life has to offer to spend time contemplating the loss of whatever it is we are enjoying. (Location 362)

Tags: stoicism

TWO The First Stoics...

The Cynics had little interest in philosophical theorizing. They instead advocated a rather extreme philosophical lifestyle. They were ascetics. Socially speaking, they were the ancient equivalent of what we today call the homeless: They lived in the streets and slept on the ground. (Location 390)

Zeno’s school of philosophy enjoyed immediate success.12 His followers were initially called Zenonians, but because he was in the habit of giving his lectures in the Stoa Poikile, they subsequently became known as the Stoics— (Location 432)

The Stoics enjoyed whatever “good things” happened to be available, but even as they did so, they prepared themselves to give up the things in question. (Location 438)

Tags: stoicism

Note: Enjoy good things that are available, but be prepared to give them up.

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. (Location 440)

Tags: logic, stoicism

Although the Stoics were not the first to do logic—Aristotle, for example, had done it before them, as had the Megarians—Stoic logic showed an unprecedented degree of sophistication. The Stoics’ interest in logic is a natural consequence of their belief that man’s distinguishing feature is his rationality. Logic is, after all, the study of the proper use of reasoning.

The Stoics became experts on argument forms, such as “If A, then B; but A, therefore B” or “Either A or B; but not A, therefore B.” These argument forms, which are called modus ponens and modus tollendo ponens, respectively, are still used by logicians. (Location 441)

Tags: reason, logic

And for what function were people designed? To answer this question, the Stoics thought, we need only examine ourselves. On doing this, we will discover that we have certain instincts, as do all animals. We experience hunger; this is nature’s way of getting us to nourish ourselves. We also experience lust; this is nature’s way of getting us to reproduce. But we differ from other animals in one important respect: We have the ability to reason. From this we can conclude, Zeno would assert, that we were designed to be reasonable. (Location 475)

Tags: reason

After importing Stoicism, the Romans adapted the doctrine to suit their needs. For one thing, they showed less interest in logic and physics than the Greeks had. Indeed, by the time of Marcus Aurelius, the last of the great Roman Stoics, logic and physics had essentially been abandoned: In the Meditations, we find Marcus congratulating himself for not having wasted time studying these subjects. (Location 504)

The Romans also made subtle changes in the Greek Stoics’ ethical program. As we have seen, the primary ethical goal of the Greek Stoics was the attainment of virtue. The Roman Stoics retained this goal, but we find them also repeatedly advancing a second goal: the attainment of tranquility. (Location 507)

Stoic tranquility was 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. (Location 511)

Tags: favorite, stoicism

The Roman Stoics therefore seem to have concluded that by sugarcoating virtue with tranquility—more precisely, by pointing to the tranquility people would gain by pursuing virtue—they would make Stoic doctrines more attractive to ordinary Romans. (Location 536)

THREE Roman Stoicism...

Seneca talks about the things that typically make people unhappy—such as grief, anger, old age, and social anxieties—and about what we can do to make our life not just tolerable but joyful. (Location 576)

Tags: unhappiness

The adversities we experience count as “mere training,” and “those things which we all shudder and tremble at are for the good of the persons themselves to whom they come.” (Location 704)

Tags: adversity, challenges

BEGIN EACH DAY by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness—all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil.” (Location 718)

Tags: dealing with others, favorite

Note: People will act poorly because of their ignorance

...modern individuals tend to spend their days working hard to be able to afford the latest consumer gadget, in the resolute belief that if only they buy enough stuff, they will have a life that is both meaningful and maximally fulfilling. (Location 782)

Tags: consumerism

FOUR Negative Visualization What’s the Worst That Can Happen?

But no matter how hard we try to prevent bad things from happening to us, some will happen anyway. Seneca therefore points to a second reason for contemplating the bad things that can happen to us. If we think about these things, we will lessen their impact on us when, despite our efforts at prevention, they happen: “He robs present ills of their power who has perceived their coming beforehand.”1 Misfortune weighs most heavily, he says, on those who “expect nothing but good fortune.” (Location 795)

Tags: visualisation

“all things everywhere are perishable.” (Location 799)

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. (Location 802)

Tags: hedonic adaptation

The psychologists Shane Frederick and George Loewenstein have studied this phenomenon and given it a name: hedonic adaptation. To illustrate the adaptation process, they point to studies of lottery winners. Winning a lottery typically allows someone to live the life of his dreams. It turns out, though, that after an initial period of exhilaration, lottery winners end up about as happy as they previously were.4 They start taking their new Ferrari and mansion for granted, the way they previously took their rusted-out pickup and cramped apartment for granted. (Location 804)

Tags: newsletter, hedonic adaptation

As a result of the adaptation process, people find themselves on a satisfaction treadmill. They are unhappy when they detect an unfulfilled desire within them. They work hard to fulfill this desire, in the belief that on fulfilling it, they will gain satisfaction. The problem, though, is that once they fulfill a desire for something, they adapt to its presence in their life and as a result stop desiring it—or at any rate, don’t find it as desirable as they once did. They end up just as dissatisfied as they were before fulfilling the desire. (Location 818)

Tags: hedonic adaptation

One key to happiness, then, is to forestall the adaptation process: We need to take steps to prevent ourselves from taking for granted, once we get them, the things we worked so hard to get. (Location 821)

Tags: hedonic adaptation

The easiest way for us to gain happiness is to learn how to want the things we already have. (Location 827)

Tags: desires, happiness

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. It is, I think, the single most valuable technique in the Stoics’ psychological tool kit. (Location 829)

Tags: stoicism, negative visualisation

While enjoying the companionship of loved ones, then, we should periodically stop to reflect on the possibility that this enjoyment will come to an end. If nothing else, our own death will end it. (Location 840)

Tags: negative visualisation, mortality

When we say good-bye to a friend, we should silently remind ourselves that this might be our final parting. If we do this, we will be less likely to take our friends for granted, and as a result, we will probably derive far more pleasure from friendships than we otherwise would. (Location 855)

Tags: favorite, negative visualisation, mortality

Note: Remember that each time you say goodbye to someone it may be the last time you see them

...when the Stoics counsel us to live each day as if it were our last, their goal is not to change our activities but to change our state of mind as we carry out those activities. In particular, they don’t want us to stop thinking about or planning for tomorrow; instead they want us, as we think about and plan for tomorrow, to remember to appreciate today. (Location 868)

Tags: appreciate, stoicism, mortality

Most of us are “living the dream”—living, that is, the dream we once had for ourselves. We might be married to the person we once dreamed of marrying, have the children and job we once dreamed of having, and own the car we once dreamed of buying.

Thanks to hedonic adaptation, as soon as we find ourselves living the life of our dreams, we start taking that life for granted. Instead of spending our days enjoying our good fortune, we spend them forming and pursuing new, grander dreams for ourselves. As a result, we are never satisfied with our life. Negative visualization can help us avoid this fate. (Location 876)

Tags: hedonic adaptation, negative visualisation

Hedonic adaptation has the power to extinguish our enjoyment of the world. Because of adaptation, we take our life and what we have for granted rather than delighting in them. Negative visualization, though, is a powerful antidote to hedonic adaptation. By consciously thinking about the loss of what we have, we can regain our appreciation of it, and with this regained appreciation we can revitalize our capacity for joy. (Location 907)

Tags: negative visualisation, hedonic adaptation

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. (Location 1018)

Tags: negative visualisation

“All things human,” Seneca reminds us, “are short-lived and perishable.” (Location 1025)

Tags: mortality

By contemplating the impermanence of everything in the world, we are forced to recognize that every time we do something could be the last time we do it, and this recognition can invest the things we do with a significance and intensity that would otherwise be absent. (Location 1039)

FIVE The Dichotomy of Control On Becoming Invincible...

Most people think harms and benefits come from outside themselves. Look “for all benefit and harm to come from himself.” In particular, he will give up the rewards the external world has to offer in order to gain “tranquility, freedom, and calm.” (Location 1044)

Tags: internal values

...as Epictetus points out, “It is impossible that happiness, and yearning for what is not present, should ever be united.” (Location 1051)

A better strategy for getting what you want, he says, is to make it your goal to want only those things that are easy to obtain—and ideally to want only those things that you can be certain of obtaining. (Location 1053)

Tags: desires

Note: Desire things which are easy to obtain

He offers our opinions, impulses, desires, and aversions as examples of things that are up to us, and our possessions and reputation as examples of things that aren’t. (Location 1064)

In conclusion, whenever we desire something that is not up to us, our tranquility will likely be disturbed: If we don’t get what we want, we will be upset, and if we do get what we want, we will experience anxiety in the process of getting it. (Location 1074)

Tags: desires

Note: Focus your desires on things within your control

We have complete control over our values. We have complete control, for example, over whether we value fame and fortune, pleasure, or tranquility. (Location 1125)

Tags: favorite, internal values

Set internal rather than external goals. Thus, his goal in playing tennis will not be to win a match (something external, over which he has only partial control) but to play to the best of his ability in the match (something internal, over which he has complete control).

By choosing this goal, he will spare himself frustration or disappointment should he lose the match: Since it was not his goal to win the match, he will not have failed to attain his goal, as long as he played his best. His tranquility will not be disrupted. (Location 1165)

Tags: internal values

my goal should be an internal goal: to behave, to the best of my ability, in a lovable manner. Similarly, my goal with respect to my boss should be to do my job to the best of my ability. These are goals I can achieve no matter how my wife and my boss subsequently react to my efforts. (Location 1182)

Tags: internal values

Note: Creating internal goals ensures you focus only on things within your control

SIX Fatalism Letting Go of the Past … and the Present...

To solve this puzzle, we need to distinguish between fatalism with respect to the future and fatalism with respect to the past. When a person is fatalistic with respect to the future, she will keep firmly in mind, when deciding what to do, that her actions can have no effect on future events. Such a person is unlikely to spend time and energy thinking about the future or trying to alter it. When a person is fatalistic with respect to the past, she adopts this same attitude toward past events. She will keep firmly in mind, when deciding what to do, that her actions can have no effect on the past. Such a person is unlikely to spend time and energy thinking about how the past might be different. (Location 1259)

When the Stoics advocate fatalism, they are, I think, advocating a restricted form of the doctrine. More precisely, they are advising us to be fatalistic with respect to the past, to keep firmly in mind that the past cannot be changed. (Location 1263)

The best way to gain satisfaction is not by working to satisfy whatever desires we find within us but by learning to be satisfied with our life as it is—by learning to be happy with whatever we’ve got. If we can learn to want whatever it is we already have, we won’t have to work to fulfill our desires in order to gain satisfaction; they will already have been fulfilled. (Location 1289)

We can either spend this moment wishing it could be different, or we can embrace this moment. (Location 1294)

Tags: mindfulness

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. (Location 1305)

SEVEN Self-Denial On Dealing with the Dark Side of Pleasure...

We should periodically “practice poverty”: We should, that is, content ourselves with “the scantiest and cheapest fare” and with “coarse and rough dress.” (Location 1335)

Tags: practice poverty, money

we should periodically cause ourselves to experience discomfort that we could easily have avoided. We might accomplish this by underdressing for cold weather or going shoeless. Or we might periodically allow ourselves to become thirsty or hungry, even though water and food are at hand, and we might sleep on a hard bed, even though a soft one is available. (Location 1343)

Tags: voluntary discomfort, practice poverty, stoicism

they did not inflict these discomforts to punish themselves; rather, they did it to increase their enjoyment of life. (Location 1348)

Tags: voluntary discomfort, practice poverty

The Stoics, by way of contrast, welcomed a degree of discomfort in their life. What the Stoics were advocating, then, is more appropriately described as a program of voluntary discomfort than as a program of self-inflicted discomfort. (Location 1350)

Tags: voluntary discomfort, stoicism, discomfort

By undertaking acts of voluntary discomfort—by, for example, choosing to be cold and hungry when we could be warm and well fed—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, as we someday almost surely will.

Voluntary discomfort is like a vaccine: By exposing ourselves to a small amount of a weakened virus now, we create in ourselves an immunity that will protect us from a debilitating illness in the future. (Location 1355)

Tags: vaccine, voluntary discomfort, discomfort

A person who periodically experiences minor discomforts will grow confident that he can withstand major discomforts as well, so the prospect of experiencing such discomforts at some future time will not, at present, be a source of anxiety for him.

The person who, in contrast, is a stranger to discomfort, who has never been cold or hungry, might dread the possibility of someday being cold and hungry. Even though he is now physically comfortable, he will likely experience mental discomfort—namely, anxiety with respect to what the future holds in store for him. (Location 1361)

Tags: voluntary discomfort, challenges

helps us appreciate what we already have. In particular, by purposely causing ourselves discomfort, we will better appreciate whatever comfort we experience. (Location 1367)

Tags: voluntary discomfort, stoicism

...someone who tries to avoid all discomfort is less likely to be comfortable than someone who periodically embraces discomfort. The latter individual is likely to have a much wider “comfort zone” than the former and will therefore feel comfortable under circumstances that would cause the former individual considerable distress. (Location 1373)

Tags: voluntary discomfort, comfort zone

pursuing pleasure, Seneca warns, is like pursuing a wild beast: On being captured, it can turn on us and tear us to pieces. Or, changing the metaphor a bit, he tells us that intense pleasures, when captured by us, become our captors, meaning that the more pleasures a man captures, “the more masters will he have to serve.” (Location 1379)

willpower is like muscle power.By practicing Stoic self-denial techniques over a long period, Stoics can transform themselves into individuals remarkable for their courage and self-control. (Location 1413)

Tags: willpower

EIGHT 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. At bedtime, would yourself, “What ailment of yours have you cured today? What failing have you resisted? Where can you show improvement?” (Location 1439)

Tags: daily review

At a banquet, Seneca was not seated in the place of honor he thought he deserved. Consequently, he spent the banquet angry at those who planned the seating and envious of those who had better seats than he did. His assessment of his behavior: “You lunatic, what difference does it make what part of the couch you put your weight on?” (Location 1449)

Besides reflecting on the day’s events, we can devote part of our meditations to going through a kind of mental checklist. Are we practicing the psychological techniques recommended by the Stoics? Do we, for example, periodically engage in negative visualization? Do we take time to distinguish between those things over which we have complete control, those things over which we have no control at all, and those things over which we have some but not complete control? Are we careful to internalize our goals? Have we refrained from dwelling on the past and instead focused our attention on the future? Have we consciously practiced acts of self-denial? We can also use our Stoic meditations as an opportunity to ask whether, in our daily affairs, we are following the advice offered by the Stoics. (Location 1467)

Tags: checklists, stoicism

Other signs of progress, says Epictetus, are the following: We will stop blaming, censuring, and praising others; we will stop boasting about ourselves and how much we know; and we will blame ourselves, not external circumstances, when our desires are thwarted. (Location 1479)

Epictetus thinks that in our practice of Stoicism, we should be so inconspicuous that others don’t label us Stoics—or even label us philosophers. (Location 1491)

Tags: stoicism

The most important sign that we are making progress as Stoics, though, is a change in our emotional life. It isn’t, as those ignorant of the true nature of Stoicism commonly believe, that we will stop experiencing emotion. We will instead find ourselves experiencing fewer negative emotions. We will also find that we are spending less time than we used to wishing things could be different and more time enjoying things as they are. We will find, more generally, that we are experiencing a degree of tranquility that our life previously lacked. We might also discover, perhaps to our amazement, that our practice of Stoicism has made us susceptible to little outbursts of joy: We will, out of the blue, feel delighted to be the person we are, living the life we are living, in the universe we happen to inhabit. (Location 1493)

Tags: negativity, emotions

Seneca tells us that his goal in practicing Stoicism is not to become a sage; instead, he takes his progress to be adequate as long as “every day I reduce the number of my vices, and blame my mistakes.” (Location 1503)

PART THREE Stoic Advice (Location 1514)

NINE Duty On Loving Mankind...

His disgust for his fellow humans is nicely summarized in the following passage: “Eating, sleeping, copulating, excreting, and the like; what a crew they are!” (Location 1572)

Marcus therefore concludes that doing his social duty will give him the best chance at having a good life. This, for Marcus, is the reward for doing one’s duty: a good life. (Location 1588)

Note: A good life is the reward for dong ones duty

Throughout the millennia and across cultures, those who have thought carefully about desire have drawn the conclusion that spending our days working to get whatever it is we find ourselves wanting is unlikely to bring us either happiness or tranquility. (Location 1593)

Tags: favorite

TEN Social Relations On Dealing with Other People...

THE STOICS, it should by now be clear, are faced with a dilemma. If they associate with other people, they run the risk of having their tranquility disturbed by them; if they preserve their tranquility by shunning other people, they will fail to do their social duty to form and maintain relationships. The question for the Stoics, then, is this: How can they preserve their tranquility while interacting with other people? The Stoics thought long and hard about this question. In the process of answering it, they developed a body of advice on how to deal with other people. (Location 1597)

To begin with, the Stoics recommend that we prepare for our dealings with other people before we have to deal with them. Thus, Epictetus advises us to form “a certain character and pattern” for ourselves when we are alone. Then, when we associate with other people, we should remain true to who we are. (Location 1601)

We should instead seek, as friends, people who share our (proper Stoic) values and in particular, people who are doing a better job than we are of living in accordance with these values. And while enjoying the companionship of these individuals, we should work hard to learn what we can from them. (Location 1606)

Tags: friendship

People tend to talk about certain things; back in Epictetus’s time, he says, they talked about gladiators, horse races, athletes, eating and drinking—and, most of all, about other people. When we find ourselves in a group that is conversing about such things, Epictetus advises us to be silent or to have few words; alternatively, we might subtly attempt to divert the talk to “something appropriate.” (Location 1620)

Tags: gossip

Marcus recommends that when we interact with an annoying person, we keep in mind that there are doubtless people who find us to be annoying. More generally, when we find ourselves irritated by someone’s shortcomings, we should pause to reflect on our own shortcomings. Doing this will help us become more empathetic to this individual’s faults and therefore become more tolerant of him. (Location 1630)

Tags: dealing with others

we should remind ourselves that “this mortal life endures but a moment,” meaning that we soon will be dead.

Putting annoying incidents into their cosmic context, he thinks, will make their triviality apparent and will therefore alleviate our annoyance. (Location 1649)

Tags: mortality

Note: When something annoys you remember that soon we will be dead

If we analyze something into the elements that compose it, we will see the thing for what it really is and thereby value it appropriately. Fine wine, thus analyzed, turns out to be nothing more than fermented grape juice, and the purple robes that Romans valued so highly turn out to be nothing more than the wool of a sheep stained with gore from a shellfish. (Location 1663)

Tags: wine, newsletter, favorite

Note: Break things down to their elements to see things as they really are

Few people, Musonius would have us believe, are happier than the person who has both a loving spouse and devoted children. (Location 1686)

Tags: children

ELEVEN Insults On Putting Up with Put-Downs...

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?” (Location 1715)

Tags: insults

Note: Pause and consider if it is true. If so, there is little reason to be upset.

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, or, at any rate, he might simply be reporting how things seem to him. Rather than getting angry at this person for his honesty, we should calmly set him straight. (Location 1718)

Tags: insults

Note: Consider that the person may simply be misinformed

Consider the source of an insult. If I respect the source, if I value his opinions, then his critical remarks shouldn’t upset me.

Suppose, for example, that I am learning to play the banjo and that the person who is criticizing my playing is the skilled musician I have hired as my teacher. In this case, I am paying the person to criticize me. It would be utterly foolish, under these circumstances, for me to respond to his criticisms with hurt feelings. To the contrary, if I am serious about learning the banjo, I should thank him for criticizing me.

Suppose, however, that I don’t respect the source of an insult. Rather than feeling hurt, I should feel relieved: If he disapproves of what I am doing, then what I am doing is doubtless the right thing to do. What should worry me is if this contemptible person approved of what I am doing. If I say anything at all in response to his insults, the most appropriate comment would be, “I’m relieved that you feel that way about me.” (Location 1721)

Tags: insults

Note: Consider the source of the insult. If you respect them you should listen. If you don't respect them you should be happy.

When we consider the sources of insults, 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. In other cases, we will find that those insulting us have deeply flawed characters. Such people, says Marcus, rather than deserving our anger, deserve our pity. (Location 1730)

Tags: insults, dealing with others, favorite

What is insulting is not the person who abuses you or hits you, but the judgment about them that they are insulting.

Another person will not do you harm unless you wish it; you will be harmed at just that time at which you take yourself to be harmed. (Location 1740)

Tags: insults, favorite, stoicism

This last advice is really just an application of the broader Stoic belief that, as Epictetus puts it, “what upsets people is not things themselves but their judgments about these things.” (Location 1744)

Tags: insults, perspective

By laughing off an insult, we are implying that we don’t take the insulter and his insults seriously. To imply this, of course, is to insult the insulter without directly doing so. It is therefore a response that is likely to deeply frustrate the insulter. For this reason, a humorous reply to an insult can be far more effective than a counterinsult would be. (Location 1770)

Tags: insults

Refusing to respond to an insult is, paradoxically, one of the most effective responses possible. We are robbing him of the pleasure of having upset us, and he is likely to be upset as a result. (Location 1784)

Tags: insults

TWELVE Grief On Vanquishing Tears with Reason...

How much should a Stoic grieve? “let your tears flow, but let them also cease, let deepest sighs be drawn from your breast, but let them also find an end.” (Location 1833)

Tags: grief

THE STOICS’ PRIMARY grief-prevention strategy was to engage in negative visualization. By contemplating the deaths of those we love, we will remove some of the shock we experience if they die; we will in a sense have seen it coming.

Furthermore, if we contemplate the deaths of those we love, we will likely take full advantage of our relationships with them and therefore won’t, if they die, find ourselves filled with regrets about all the things we could and should have done with and for them. (Location 1842)

Tags: mortality, negative visualisation

Note: Prepare yourself for grief by visualising ahead of time

Seneca argues that the brother whose death Polybius is grieving either would or wouldn’t want Polybius to be tortured with tears. If he would want Polybius to suffer, then he isn’t worthy of tears, so Polybius should stop crying; if he wouldn’t want Polybius to suffer, then it is incumbent on Polybius, if he loves and respects his brother, to stop crying. (Location 1858)

Tags: mortality, grieving

EPICTETUS ALSO OFFERS advice on grief management. He advises us, in particular, to take care not to “catch” the grief of others. Suppose, for example, we encounter a grief-stricken woman. We should, says Epictetus, sympathize with her and maybe even accompany her moaning with moaning of our own. But in doing so, we should be careful not to “moan inwardly.”8 In other words, we should display signs of grief without allowing ourselves to experience grief. (Location 1873)

Some will be offended by this advice. When others are grieving, they will assert, we shouldn’t just pretend as if we sympathize with them; we should actually feel their losses and actually grieve ourselves. Epictetus might respond to this criticism by pointing out that the advice that we respond to the grief of friends by grieving ourselves is as foolish as the advice that we help someone who has been poisoned by taking poison ourselves or help someone who has the flu by intentionally catching it from him. Grief is a negative emotion and therefore one that we should, to the extent possible, avoid experiencing. (Location 1876)

THIRTEEN Anger On Overcoming Anti-Joy...

Anger, is “brief insanity,” and the damage done by anger is enormous: “No plague has cost the human race more.” (Location 1898)

Tags: anger

Anger as a motivational tool: After we turn it on, it is hard to turn it off. Whatever good it initially does us will (on average) be more than offset by the harm it subsequently does. “Reason,” he cautions, “will never enlist the aid of reckless unbridled impulses over which it has no authority.” (Location 1906)

Tags: anger

In our discussion of insults, we saw that Seneca makes an exception to his rule to respond to insults with humor or with no response at all: If we are dealing with someone who, despite being an adult, behaves like a child, we might want to punish him for insulting us. It is, after all, the only thing he will understand. Likewise, there are individuals who, when they wrong us, are incapable of changing their behavior in response to our measured, rational entreaties. When dealing with this sort of shallow individual, it does not make sense to become actually angry—doing so will likely spoil our day—but it might make sense, Seneca thinks, to feign anger.4 By doing this, we can get this person to mend his ways with minimal disruption of our own tranquility. (Location 1915)

We should fight our tendency to believe the worst about others and our tendency to jump to conclusions about their motivations. (Location 1922)

Tags: anger, favorite

The things that anger us generally don’t do us any real harm; they are instead mere annoyances.

By allowing ourselves to get angry over little things, we take what might have been a barely noticeable disruption of our day and transform it into a tranquility-shattering state of agitation.

“our anger invariably lasts longer than the damage done to us.” (Location 1933)

Tags: anger

Note: Anger usually lasts longer than the damage done to us

Think of the bad things that happen to us as being funny rather than outrageous, an incident that might have angered us can instead become a source of amusement. (Location 1941)

Tags: anger, challenges

Note: Look at the funny side of negative events

Contemplate the impermanence of the world around us. If we do this we will realize that many of the things we think are important in fact aren’t, at least not in the grand scheme of things. (Location 1944)

Tags: anger, perspective

when we feel ourselves getting angry about something, we should pause to consider its cosmic (in)significance. Doing this might enable us to nip our anger in the bud. (Location 1949)

Tags: perspective, anger

We should force ourselves to relax our face, soften our voice, and slow our pace of walking. If we do this, our internal state will soon come to resemble our external state. (Location 1954)

Tags: anger

Note: When angry, relax your face, soften your voice and walk slowly

The act of apologizing, besides having a calming effect on us, can prevent us from subsequently obsessing over the thing that made us angry. Finally, apologizing for the outburst can help us become a better person: By admitting our mistakes, we lessen the chance that we will make them again in the future. (Location 1961)

Tags: apologise

FOURTEEN Personal Values On Seeking Fame...

We should be indifferent to people’s opinions of us, but conceal our indifference. After all, to tell someone else that you don’t care what he thinks is quite possibly the worst insult you can inflict. (Location 1995)

Tags: dealing with others, favorite

Note: We should be indifferent to people's opinions of us, but do not tell them this!

It is foolish for us to worry about what other people think of us and particularly foolish for us to seek the approval of people whose values we reject.

Our goal should therefore be to become indifferent to other people’s opinions of us. (Location 1997)

Tags: values, dealing with others

Immortal fame is “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 future generations will praise us, without even having met us, when we find it so difficult to praise our contemporaries, even though we meet them routinely. (Location 2004)

Tags: legacy, values, fame

Realize that in order to win the admiration of other people, we will have to adopt their values. More precisely, we will have to live a life that is successful according to their notion of success. (If we are living what they take to be an unsuccessful life, they will have no reason to admire us.)

Consequently, before we try to win the admiration of these other people, we should stop to ask whether their notion of success is compatible with ours. More important, we should stop to ask whether these people, by pursuing whatever it is they value, are gaining the tranquility we seek. If they aren’t, we should be more than willing to forgo their admiration. (Location 2011)

Tags: values, success

Note: You have to adopt the values of others in order to be viewed as successful by them

Cato made a point of ignoring the dictates of fashion: When everyone was wearing light purple, he wore dark, and although ancient Romans normally went out in public wearing shoes and a tunic, Cato wore neither. According to Plutarch, Cato did this not because he “sought vainglory”; to the contrary, he dressed differently in order to accustom himself “to be ashamed only of what was really shameful, and to ignore men’s low opinion of other things.”7 In other words, Cato consciously did things to trigger the disdain of other people simply so he could practice ignoring their disdain. (Location 2018)

Tags: societal norms, shame, fashion

FIFTEEN Personal Values On Luxurious Living...

“Is it not madness and the wildest lunacy to desire so much when you can hold so little?” (Location 2061)

When, as the result of being exposed to luxurious living, people become hard to please, a curious thing happens. Rather than mourning the loss of their ability to enjoy simple things, they take pride in their newly gained inability to enjoy anything but “the best.” (Location 2085)

Tags: luxury, hedonic adaptation, favorite

Note: Enjoy the simple. Avoid a life of luxury.

They would point out that by undermining their ability to enjoy simple, easily obtainable things—bowls of macaroni and cheese, for example—these individuals have seriously impaired their ability to enjoy life. (Location 2087)

Tags: luxury, favorite

Note: Focus on enjoying simple attainable things

“not for pleasure but for nourishment, not to please his palate but to strengthen his body.” (Location 2093)

Musonius advises us to follow the example set by Socrates: Rather than living to eat—rather than spending our life pursuing the pleasure to be derived from food—we should eat to live. (Location 2094)

we should guard against acquiring a taste for delicacies, because once we start in this direction, it will be difficult to stop. (Location 2097)

Tags: hedonic adaptation, luxury, newsletter, favorite

according to the Stoics, in the same way that we should favor a simple diet, we should favor simple clothing, housing, and furnishings. Musonius, for example, advises us to dress to protect our bodies, not to impress other people. (Location 2102)

Tags: fashion

People who achieve luxurious lifestyles are rarely satisfied: Experiencing luxury only whets their appetite for even more luxury. (Location 2108)

Tags: luxury, hedonic adaptation

Those who crave luxury typically have to spend considerable time and energy to attain it; those who eschew luxury can devote this same time and energy to other, more worthwhile undertakings. (Location 2120)

Tags: favorite, luxury, simplification

We need to keep in mind the difference between the Cynics and the Stoics. Cynicism requires its adherents to live in abject poverty; Stoicism does not. As Seneca reminds us, Stoic philosophy “calls for plain living, but not for penance.” (Location 2151)

SIXTEEN Exile On Surviving a Change of Place...

SEVENTEEN Old Age On Being Banished to a Nursing Home...

many people go through life repeatedly making the same mistakes and are no closer to happiness in their eighties than they were in their twenties. These individuals, rather than enjoying their life, will have been embittered by it, and now, near the end of their life, they live to complain—about their circumstances, their relatives, the food, the weather, in short, about absolutely everything. (Location 2285)

Tags: complaining, ageing

The Stoics, however, thought the prospect of death, rather than depressing us, could make our days far more enjoyable than would otherwise be the case. We examined this seeming paradox back in chapter 4. We saw that by imagining how our days could go worse—and in particular, by contemplating our own death—we could increase our chance of experiencing joy. In our youth, it takes effort to contemplate our own death; in our later years, it takes effort to avoid contemplating it. Old age therefore has a way of making us do something that, according to the Stoics, we should have been doing all along. (Location 2311)

EIGHTEEN 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.1 And why are people, both young and old, disturbed by the prospect of dying? Some are disturbed because they fear what might come after death. Many more, though, are disturbed because they fear that they have mislived—that they have, that is, lived without having attained the things in life that are truly valuable. Death, of course, will make it impossible for them ever to attain these things. (Location 2337)

Tags: ageing, mortality

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. (Location 2376)

Tags: mortality

As we have seen, someone who thinks he will live forever is far more likely to waste his days than someone who fully understands that his days are numbered, and one way to gain this understanding is periodically to contemplate his own death. (Location 2377)

Tags: motivation, mortality

Note: This is similar to the story is Sum. Without death there is no motication.

Likewise, when the Stoics live each day as if it were their last, it is not because they plan to take steps to make that day their last; rather, it is so they can extract the full value of that day (Location 2378)

Tags: mortality

NINETEEN On Becoming a Stoic Start Now and Prepare to Be Mocked...

Having a philosophy of life can dramatically simplify everyday living.

Decision making becomes relatively straightforward: When choosing between the options life offers, you simply choose the one most likely to help you attain the goals set forth by your philosophy of life. (Location 2409)

Tags: decisions, values

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. (Location 2414)

Tags: values

Why do they mock someone for adopting a philosophy of life? In part because by adopting one, whether it be Stoicism or some rival philosophy, a person is demonstrating that he has different values than they do. They might therefore infer that he thinks their values are somehow mistaken, which is something people don’t want to hear. Furthermore, by adopting a philosophy of life, he is, in effect, challenging them to do something they are probably reluctant to do: reflect on their life and how they are living it. If these people can get the convert to abandon his philosophy of life, the implied challenge will vanish, and so they set about mocking him in an attempt to make him rejoin the unreflecting masses. (Location 2421)

Tags: life principles, values

Note: People dislike seeing others have a philosophy of life because it forces them to reflect on their own life

Furthermore, as they are enjoying things that can be taken from them the stoics will simultaneously be preparing for the loss of those things. In particular, when practicing negative visualization, we need to keep in mind that it is a lucky accident that we are enjoying whatever it is we are enjoying, that our enjoyment of it might end abruptly, and that we might never be able to enjoy it again. (Location 2437)

Tags: negative visualisation

The Stoics are careful to avoid becoming connoisseurs in the worst sense of the word—becoming, that is, individuals who are incapable of taking delight in anything but “the best.” As a result, they will be capable of enjoying a wide range of easily obtainable things. (Location 2441)

Tags: luxury, newsletter19, stoicism, favorite

Note: Take delight in the simple things

TWENTY The Decline of Stoicism...

Christianity had one big advantage over Stoicism: It promised not just life after death but an afterlife in which one would be infinitely satisfied for an eternity. The Stoics, on the other hand, thought it possible that there was life after death but were not certain of it, and if there was indeed life after death, the Stoics were uncertain what it would be like. (Location 2480)

“Always to seek to conquer myself rather than fortune, to change my desires rather than the established order, and generally to believe that nothing except our thoughts is wholly under our control, so that after we have done our best in external matters, what remains to be done is absolutely impossible, at least as far as we are concerned.” (Location 2486)

Tags: favorite

scholar Robert D. Richardson, “His was always the practical question, how best can I live my daily life?,” (Location 2496)

IN REPLY TO this criticism of Stoic psychology, let me remind readers that despite widespread belief to the contrary, the Stoics did not advocate that we “bottle up” our emotions. They did advise us to take steps to prevent negative emotions and to overcome them when our attempts at prevention fail, but this is different from keeping them bottled up: If we prevent or overcome an emotion, there will be nothing to bottle. (Location 2545)

Tags: emotions

...is perfectly natural to experience grief. After this bout of reflexive grief, though, a Stoic will try to dispel whatever grief remains in him by trying to reason it out of existence. He will, in particular, invoke the kinds of arguments Seneca used in his consolations: “Is this what the person who died would want me to do? Of course not! She would want me to be happy! The best way to honor her memory is to leave off grieving and get on with life.” (Location 2550)

Tags: grief

Because grief is a negative emotion, the Stoics opposed it. At the same time, they realized that because we are mere mortals, some grief is inevitable in the course of a lifetime, as are some fear, some anxiety, some anger, some hatred, some humiliation, and some envy. The goal of the Stoics was therefore not to eliminate grief but to minimize it. (Location 2554)

Tags: stoicism, grief

Note: Minimimize negative emotions

A“A man is as wretched as he has convinced himself that he is.” He therefore recommends that we “do away with complaint about past sufferings and with all language like this: ‘None has ever been worse off than I. What sufferings, what evils have I endured!’” After all, what point is there in “being unhappy, just because once you were unhappy?” (Location 2597)

Tags: complaining, language

In particular, the Stoics don’t think it is helpful for people to consider themselves victims of society—or victims of anything else, for that matter. 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. (Location 2612)

Tags: victim

Note: Dont consider yourself a victom

The Stoics believed in social reform, but they also believed in personal transformation. The first step in transforming a society into one in which people live a good life is to teach people how to make their happiness depend as little as possible on their external circumstances.

The second step in transforming a society is to change people’s external circumstances.

The Stoics would add that if we fail to transform ourselves, then no matter how much we transform the society in which we live, we are unlikely to have a good life. (Location 2618)

Tags: favorite

Note: Don’t depend on external factors for your happiness

For each desire we fulfill in accordance with this strategy, a new desire will pop into our head to take its place. This means that no matter how hard we work to satisfy our desires, we will be no closer to satisfaction than if we had fulfilled none of them. We will, in other words, remain dissatisfied. (Location 2655)

Tags: desires, hedonic adaptation

Our best hope at gaining happiness is to live not a life of self-indulgence but a life of self-discipline and, to a degree, self-sacrifice. (Location 2668)

Tags: happiness

TWENTY-ONE Stoicism Reconsidered...

Tranquility is worth pursuing. It is a psychological state in which we experience few negative emotions, such as anxiety, grief (Location 2678)

We should also, to the extent possible, avoid people whose values are corrupt (Location 2696)

Tags: dealing with others, values

Two principal sources of human unhappiness: 1) Our insatiability and 2) Our tendency to worry about things beyond our control (Location 2700)

Tags: happiness, unhappiness

To conquer our insatiability, we should engage in negative visualization. We should contemplate the impermanence of all things. We should imagine ourselves losing the things we most value, including possessions and loved ones. 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 because we appreciate them, we will be less likely to form desires for other things. (Location 2702)

Tags: desires, negative visualisation

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,… (Location 2714)

Many of the things that our evolutionary programming encourages us to seek, such as social status and more of anything we already have, may be valuable if our goal is simply to survive and reproduce, but aren’t at all valuable if our goal is instead to experience tranquility while we are alive. (Location 2784)

Tags: values, status, favorite

Note: If our goal is to attain tranquility, then seeking social status and 'more' is unnecessary

TWENTY-TWO Practicing Stoicism...

Anger, resembles a mosquito bite: It feels bad not to scratch a bite and feels good to scratch it. The problem with mosquito bites, of course, is that after you scratch one, you typically wish you hadn’t done so: The itch returns, intensified, and by scratching the bite, you increase the chance that it will become infected. Much the same can be said of anger. (Location 3049)

Tags: metaphor, anger

Laughter is the proper response to “the things which drive us to tears. (Location 3073)

Tags: laughter

In causing myself anxiety by, for example, giving a banjo recital, I have precluded much future anxiety in my life. Now, when faced with a new challenge, I have a wonderful bit of reasoning I can use: “Compared to the banjo recital, this new challenge is nothing. I survived that challenge, so surely I will survive this one.” By taking part in the recital, in other words, I immunized myself against a fair amount of future anxiety. It is an immunization, though, that will wear off with the passage of time, and I will need to be reimmunized with another dose of butterflies. (Location 3115)

Tags: vaccine

Note: Immunize yourself against anxiety by putting yourself in anxiety-inducing situations frequently.

I have sought role models, people who were in the next stage of life and who, I thought, were handling that stage successfully. On reaching my fifties, I started examining the seventy- and eighty-year-olds I knew in an attempt to find a role model. It was easy, I discovered, to find people in that age group who could serve as negative role models; my goal, I thought, should be to avoid ending up like them. Positive role models, however, proved to be in short supply. (Location 3214)

Tags: role model

Note: Find role models who are in the next stage of life and similar to where you would like to be

Life is more like wrestling than like dancing. (Location 3236)

Tags: life