A Guide to the Good Life by William B. Irvine

There’s a lot to unpack here about this book, but it’s been an absolute best thing about 2021 so far is William Irvine’s work on Stoicism, from his meditation series on Sam Harris’s Waking Up application to this book. It’s allowed me to construct a frame—or a comic book panel on every page of the last two years since my diagnosis and everything that has happened from the pandemic to my house that features three other people who need me to be well. It’s safe to say that I don’t know where I would be physically or mentally if it weren’t for Irvine’s work.

There are far too many lessons from this book that I cannot enumerate here and make it a reasonably sized blog post, but here are a few:

Negative Visualization

It is where you imagine something you like about your present circumstances and imagine if that something is gone. Specifically, this means your job, your house, your children, or your partner.

  1.  At PSC, I realized that was my dream job, and I let it go without a second thought: Irvine defines this as a hedonic adaptation, where we work hard to get something in college, get on the proper career path, then spend years making slow but steady progress toward our goal. So when I landed the dream job (PSC as a full-time instructor), I felt in control even though I was not. Grumbling about pay, coworkers, the institution, and the failure to recognize talents. I threw all of that away because I was overconfident (66-67).
  2. On hedonic adaptation, where we find ourselves living the life of our dreams, we start taking that life for granted. Then I spend time enjoying my good fortune and forming new, grander visions for myself. .. (72)
  3. It is not a rich person’s philosophy. People who have a pretty good life (me) can benefit from this philosophy and the poor. Those who are poor will prevent them from doing many things. It will not preclude them from negative visualization, like his Dream Life meditation in the Stoic Path app. (72)
  4. By helping my parents pack up the LP house as the last time, I would step in that house (84)

One of the biggest things that I took away from this book is the Dichotomy of Control, which is something that initially attracted me to Stoicism in the first place. After reading this book, though, I figured out that I have a saying that I’ve heard throughout my life growing up in the Adirondacks: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear, and bad attitudes.” This phrase encapsulates all of Stoicism for me, but especially the Dichotomy of Control. Irvine asserts that it is a trichotomy of control:

  • Things over which we have no control at all: whether it will rain tomorrow or “No such thing as bad weather….” Epictetus’s Advice: we should not concern ourselves with these things
  • We have some but not complete control: whether we win the job, get the publishing deal, etc. Advice: we should concern ourselves with these things, but we should be careful to internalize the goals we form regarding these things or “bad gear,” there is just “gear” and how you use it. You can prepare by getting in the right headspace, blocking social media, reading deeply, and revising the piece you’re working on–that’s all you have some control over.
  • Things over which you have complete control: your attitude, always. We should concern ourselves with these things.   

This helped me form my primary writing goal:

My primary writing duty is to take time every day to write 3 pages of personal essays, journaling, comics, or prose fiction and get it good enough to be submitted. No matter how many times you have to revise the piece but at minimum five times.

The rest is out of my control and not worth overly concerning myself.

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