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A Guide to the Good Life Summary

Here’s A Guide to the Good Life summary. Learn how the ancient philosophy Stoicism can help you live a better life.


A Guide to the Good Life author William Irvine explains how Stoic philosophy can improve your living. He provides practical insights to minimizing worries, dealing with insults, and more.

He also provides tips that are relevant to our modern lives. He shows how the ancient philosophy of Stoicism can help us navigate our work and personal journey.

About the Author

William Irvine has been teaching at the Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio since 1983. He specializes in writing for readers who are interested in philosophy and everyday life.

He got his MA and PhD in Philosophy at UCLA. He got his BA in Mathematics and Philosophy at the University of Michigan.

Main takeaways: A Guide to the Good Life Summary

Let’s discuss the key takeaways from his book:

  1. You should adopt a philosophy of life.
  2. Do the negative visualization.
  3. Focus on the things that you have control.

You should adopt a philosophy of life

This is important. If you don’t have a philosophy of life, you won’t feel a sense of direction. At the end of the day or your life, you’ll feel that you’ve wasted it all.

You should set a grand goal for living. That goal will determine your everyday actions. Each day you wake up you’ll feel a sense of direction. That will also guide your responses to your everyday living.

Then you should also set a strategy for achieving that grand goal. It’s common sense. But we often forget it. We continue living our lives chasing one shiny thing to the next.

The key here is to have a focus. Your philosophy of life will help you with that. You’ll know what to do when things happen. You’ll know each day how to achieve your goal. Then you will keep moving towards that.

One helpful philosophy to help you achieve your grand goal is Stoicism. For many they think Stoicism is about removing all emotions. But it’s actually the removal of negative emotions.

That ancient philosophy will guide you to living a good life. You have a set of guidelines you can follow each moment. It will also help you focus on what matters.

Another thing that Stoic philosophy can help you with is minimizing worries. Let’s discuss that next.

Do the negative visualization

If you want to minimize worries, visualize the negative outcomes. This is actually more helpful than thinking in abstract. Instead of avoiding thinking of the negative, spend some time with it.

Why? It will make you realize that it’s not that bad. What you fear may just be tolerable. Maybe you can easily live with it. Or you can just get back to where you used to in case it actually happens.

What’s the worst that can happen? Ask yourself that when you’re making decisions. If the outcomes are tolerable or reversible, you’ll realize it’s not a big deal after all.

What will happen if you lose all your wealth? Visualize the outcome. Imagine what will happen. Then you’ll realize you can easily get it all back. If you got it through hard work and some luck, you’ll be able to do it all over again.

Maybe you will feel shame. Your friends will leave you. But it might be a good thing. Your true friends will be left. Or you will be more resourceful. You’ll realize that most things don’t matter.

Today spend some time with negative visualization. Imagine the worst outcome. Then you will feel peace. And you will also make some preparations to avoid it. That’s actually more productive than worrying about something you don’t know yet.

Focus on the things that you have control

This is also a great way to minimize worries. If you focus only on the things under your control, you’ll have much less to think about.

What are the things under your control? Effort and behavior are sure things. For example you’re preparing for a chess match. As usual you’ll give your best. But you don’t actually control the outcome.

Maybe your opponent is just better than you. Maybe you made a wrong move. Or maybe you didn’t anticipate his plans. You might lose. You have no complete control over that.

But you have complete control over your effort. You can practice several hours a day. You can get a coach to help you. You can read books written by the masters.

If you lost, you have complete control over your behavior. You can feel down and get angry. Or you can feel happy about the great match. You can think of the chess match as a great learning experience.

We don’t usually control the outcomes. Don’t think too much about them. They’re a main source of worries. We get attached and we feel the fear. That actually is counterproductive.

Focus on your effort instead. You can control it. You can figure out how to give your best. You can figure out how to make better moves. It will give you peace of mind. And you will find greater focus.

Aside from adopting a philosophy in life, doing the negative visualization, and focusing on things that you have control, you’ll also learn the following from the A Guide to the Good Life book:

  • Why you should focus on helping others
  • How to deal with insults
  • Instead of thinking what you’ve lost, think of what you’ve had
  • Not caring about wealth makes it more likely that you’ll end up wealthy
  • How to achieve tranquility

My personal takeaways

I never thought that an ancient philosophy has modern applications. Stoicism might actually be more relevant today than during the old times.

Why? It might be because of abundance in food and wealth. We can get easy access to anything. We take almost anything for granted. But that abundance is also the cause of our worries.

We fear that we might be losing it all. Or we always aim for something better or more expensive. Stoicism can help in minimizing worries and gaining peace from what we already have.

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