Book Review: A Guide to the Good Life – The Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine

Just as a gun can misfire, a life can also be mis-lived. A life philosophy provides a grand goal and a strategy for achieving this goal. It helps us to live intentionally.

Stoicisim is one such life philosophy. Its grand goal is tranquility, or the minimization of negative emotions.

Here is the strategy:

Psychological Techniques

Negative Visualization

Negative visualization is imagining that we will lose what we already have. There are several benefits to this:

  • We learn to take steps to prevent this loss.
  • We reduce the emotional impact of the loss if it occurs.
  • We increase our gratitude for the things we have.

Trichotomy of Control

I must carefully choose the things I concern myself over. They have the power to upset my tranquility if I let them. Things can be separated into three categories:

  • No control. To ignore anything in this category.
  • Some Control. I should internalize my goals. Concentrate on doing my best instead of worrying over the outcome.
  • Complete control.

Voluntary Discomfort

I should practice voluntary discomfort because:

  • It is a vaccine against future discomfort.
  • It increases my confidence, reduces the anxiety I feel in everyday life, because I know I can handle whatever life throws at me.
  • It increases my appreciation for what I already have.

I can think of voluntary discomfort as a game against myself. My other self loves comfort, is fearful, and chooses the path of least resistance. My other self is the enemy. I win points against him by chasing wherever my fear is at this moment. When I win points against myself, I learn how to shape my life the way I want it.


I should reflect daily on my behavior and whether I could have responded more stoically to events. For everything I do, what is the motive, where is the value, is it rational?

Practical Advice


People are both a source of pleasure and annoyance. Therefore I should choose my friends wisely. My friends should be my betters so I can learn from them. They should not be pessimists (that would affect my tranquility) or spread their vices to me (I have enough of my own).

If I must deal with annoying people, I can maintain my tranquility by understanding that:

  • I have my own shortcomings.
  • My annoyance at what they do is worse to me than what they are doing.
  • People do not choose their faults. Respect their identity.


When I am insulted, I can choose to respond with humour, with no response, or by punishing them with the intention to correct, not to hurt.

To maintain my tranquility, I should consider:

  • That I interpret their actions as an insult. If I choose not to interpret their actions as an insult, I remain at peace.
  • If there is any truth in their words. If it is true, why should I feel insulted?
  • If they are well-informed. Perhaps they sincerely believe what they are saying, but are misinformed. Then I should simply correct them.


Anger is an emotional trap. Points to note:

  • Oftentimes, we respond with anger not because people did not help us, but because they did not help us enough.
  • We believe the worst of others.
  • We are overly sensitive.
  • A thought exercise to dissipate anger is use our physiology. Relax our face, soften the voice, slow our walking.



I seem to be reading books dealing with the same subject matter. Time to stir it up.

In particular, I like the idea of voluntary discomfort as a path to Joy. Perhaps this is how we combine Flow with Happiness Now. Training is a flow activity. I want to lift heavier weights and reduce my body fat. But training also helps me be Joyful.

I do not experience discomfort walking up the stairs. I can playfully lift clement up on my shoulders and dump him on the bed with no problem. I can shake your hand firmly, look you in the eye and wish you happy new year. Training increase the courage I have to deal with any physical discomfort. At the same time, I know that I can use the same approach I use for my training to improve any area of my life. This creates a confidence that is perhaps experienced every day as Joy.

Nothing new here. This book did not challenge my assumptions, nor did I expect it to. From reading Jacob, I have suspected that I might be Stoic. This is the kind of book that provides an overarching structure to organize my beliefs in.

Stoic Joy Mind Map


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s