Books Insights Non-Fiction Personal Development

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine | Book Report

This book was recommended by one of our book club members (Thanks Pearl!). She learned that I have some interest in Stoicism and suggested this book to me. I had a hard time finding a simple definition of what Stoicism is but I think this one is helpful:

STOICISM • a philosophy that helps us direct our thoughts and actions in an unpredictable world. We don’t control and cannot rely on external events, but we can (to a certain extent) control our mind and choose our behavior.

Basically, the book is encouraging us to have some kind of philosophy when dealing with life. And since I don’t have any religion, I think it’s a good plan. Although I’ve always thought that I turned out pretty well without being religious. That I don’t need to have a religion to be a decent person. But having a philosophy, as the book suggested, seemed appealing to me; and personally, a better alternative than religion. And this specific philosophy that the author is advocating for is Stoicism.

The primary concern of philosophy should be the art of living: Just as wood is the medium of the carpenter and bronze is the medium of the sculptor, your life is the medium on which you practice the art of living.


The author mentioned in the beginning that the default philosophy of almost everyone (without even realizing it) is to seek wealth, social status, and pleasure. And in varying degrees, I would have to agree. He called this philosophy an ‘enlightened form of hedonism’. When the author puts it this way, I wanted to stay away from this kind of philosophy as soon as possible.

So what is Stoicism all about? What do I have to practice to be a Stoic? Basically, Stoicism teaches us to put little value in wealth, fame, and pleasure; but instead, we should turn our attention to the pursuit of tranquility. And tranquility, in the book, is described as:

A stated marked by the absence of negative emotions such as anger, grief, anxiety, and fear, and the presence of positive emotions — in particular, joy.

Diba ang imposible. But then again, we should set proper expectations. Since we are just humans, we will never reach this pure state of tranquility. But instead, the goal is to attain tranquility most of the time.

So how do we do this? The book described some of the psychological techniques and Stoic advice on how to deal with the stresses in life:

  • Practicing negative visualization

Negative visualization daw ay contemplating the bad things that could happen, like a death of a relative for example. By doing this, we would learn to appreciate people more and not take them for granted.

And I happen to do this sometimes, (unaware that this is some kind of technique) especially to my lola. She’s 80 y/o and the thought of her passing is something that my mind could not escape. Morbid, yes. But it also helps me to appreciate her existence more. To call her and just check up on her more often. I love her so much and she’s really my second mother. When I have these thoughts, it seems like I’m being morbid and pessimistic. But learning about negative visualization, it happens to be a helpful tool to be more appreciative and loving. But just a caution, contemplating a potential loss is different than constantly worrying about it.

Misfortune weighs most heavily, he says, on those who “expect nothing but good fortune.”


At hindi lang sya nag-aapply sa tao. Sa mga bagay din. Like ngayon, imagine na mawala yung laptop ko. Na wala akong cellphone or wala kaming sasakyan. Ang daming bagay to be grateful for. Kaya punta tayo sa next:

  • Wanting less and persuading ourselves to appreciate the things we already have

Most of us are “living the dream” — living, that is, the dream we once had for ourselves.

William B. Irvine

Sobrang totoo. Na-realize ko na ‘to at one point in my life pero magandang ma-remind ang sarili on a regular basis.

He finds delight in his own resources, and desires no joys greater than his inner joys.


And if someone daw would argue that people lacks ambition if they are easily contented, and that they shouldn’t be satisfied with so little,

I would argue, though, that what is really foolish is to spend your life in a state of self-induced dissatisfaction when satisfaction lies within your grasp.

William B. Irvine

Bad men obey their lusts as servants obey their masters.


This teaches me to be more frugal and yun nga, i-appreciate kung ano na yung meron na ko. Dati dream ko lang ‘tong mga bagay na meron ako ngayon at minsan nalilimutan ko yun. I easily fell prey to mindless consumerism before, ngayon mas pinagiisipan ko na talaga yung purchases ko.

  • Not giving mind to things we cannot control and focusing on the things we can [The Trichotomy of Control]

Ang hirap nanaman. Pero alam kong sobrang tama. Pero bakit ang hirap. Sabi daw ni Epictetus, “It’s foolish to worry about things that are not up to us.” So instead, dun tayo sa mga bagay na within our control. Pero meron din daw mga bagay na meron tayong some control, not completely pero merong konti.

So inisip ko yung mga bagay na wala akong control (#1). Eh di:

  • weather
  • time
  • our appearance
  • what other people think
  • aging
  • the past
  • recurrence ng endometriosis ko
  • COVID-19 vaccine

Because we have no control at all over the things in question, any time and energy we spend will have no effect on the outcome of events and will therefore be wasted time and energy.

Yun pa lang yung mga bagay na naiisip ko na wala akong kontrol. So useless mag-worry sa mga yan. Ano naman yung mga within my control (#2).

  • my values
  • my goals
  • my thoughts
  • my actions (refraining from buying something na hindi naman kailangan)
  • my reactions (mababadtrip ba ko sa mga mahilig mang-seen o lampake na lang)

Besides having complete control over our goals and values, Marcus points out that we have complete control over our character.

Because we have it in our power to assign value to things, we have it in our power to live a good life.

Marcus Aurelius

Siguro example, I put less value to clothes, bags, and shoes. Buti pareho kami ni Kenneth ng view dito. Imagine na lang kung isa si Kenneth dun sa mga mahilig mangolekta ng sapatos (Hello Benson) or ako mahilig sa bags (Hello Mama), baka wala na kaming maging savings non.

If what you seek is contentment, it is better and easier to change yourself and what you want than it is to change the world around you.

William B. Irvine

But I put more value to gadgets. Kasi ang thinking ko, mas masasayang yung pera ko kung mababang quality yung bibilhin ko. And true enough, tumatagal naman yung mga gadgets ko sakin. Tulad nung MacBook Air, siguro 4 or 5 years bago ko sya binenta sa kapatid ko tapos hanggang ngayon nagagamit pa nya. At yung reason kung ba’t ko naisip na palitan kahit okay pa, kasi that time, nagaaral na ko ng graphic design and hindi na nya kinakaya yung mga Adobe apps.

Kaya yun. Yung mga gadgets na necessary sa trabaho ko or ginagamit ko almost everyday, para sakin worth it mag-spend ng medyo malaki. Compared naman kay Kenneth na bumili ng laptop at niyayabang nya sakin yung specs, na mas mataas daw kesa sa laptop ko tapos mas mura pa. Pero after ilang months lang, sobrang SOBRANG bagal na. Yung i-click mo lang yung ‘My Documents’ or ‘My Computer’, isang minuto bago mag-open. Tinawanan ko talaga sya 🤣 Yabang eh.

Eh yung mga meron tayong control somehow but not completely (#3) naman:

  • Maha-hire ba ko after ng job interview
  • Mananalo ba kami ng ka-team ko sa Overcooked 2
  • (Naisip ko lang pero di applicable sakin) Sasagutin ba ko ng nililigawan ko

So napansin ko dun sa mga bagay na within our control, yun yung mga bagay na internal. Satin nakabase. And the things that we have some control, yun yung may involvement ang ibang tao at yung outcome ay depende sa several factors. And yung isang factor dun eh kung ginawa ba natin yung best natin.

At sa mga goals na sinet natin, yun lang yung kaya nating gawin, gawin ang best natin. We may or may not achieve some of them. Kaya the author is suggesting that instead of setting external goals (something we have partial control), we should set internal goals (something we have complete control).

So for example, the goal is not to be hired by the company (external), instead the goal is to be prepared and do our best during the interview (internal). The goal is not to win the game, but to play to the best of our ability. Super agree and less pa yung disappointment.

If we are slow-witted, it might not be in our power to become a scholar, but there is nothing to stop us from cultivating a number of other qualities, including sincerity, dignity, industriousness, and sobriety; nor is there anything to stop us from taking steps to curb our arrogance, to rise above pleasures and pains, to stop lusting after popularity, and to control our temper. Futhermore, we have it in our power to stop grumbling, to be considerate and frank, to be temperate in manner and speech, and to carry ourselves “with authority.” These qualities, Marcus observes, can be ours at this very moment—if we choose for them to be.

So empowering.

  • Exposing ourselves to a certain degree of discomfort

Example daw ay magpakagutom tayo minsan. Or for example dito sa Canada diba super lamig, wag daw masyadong kapalan yung suot minsan para medyo lamigin tayo. Or riding the bus kahit may sasakyan tayo. So yung initial reaction ko, “Bakit??” Pero. Nagets ko rin kung bakit.

For example si B1 and B2. B1 refuses to be in a situation na hindi komportable. Kumbaga gusto nya nasa comfort zone lang sya lagi. And si B2, since nagppractice sya ng Stoicism, he is someone who ‘periodically embraces discomfort’. Eto daw yung magiging outcome:

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 stress.

Palengke (A Short Anecdote)

May naalala kong pangyayari nung highschool. Nag-field trip kami sa palengke. Hindi talaga field trip yung term pero basta pinapunta kami sa palengke with our teacher. Hindi ko na maalala kung anong rason. Meron akong classmate na mayaman at hindi sanay sa ganung scene. Nag-try naman syang pumasok sa palengke pero after ilang minutes, hindi nya kinaya, lumabas sya. Kung hindi ako nagkakamali, naiyak pa sya. Tapos kino-comfort sya nung iba naming classmates.

Nung nakarating samin yung balita kung bakit, hindi nya daw kasi kinaya yung ‘amoy’ dun sa palengke tsaka medyo madumi rin kasi. Yung iba naartehan pero ako more of nagets ko kung bakit nagkaganun. Naisip ko, siguro kasi sa sobrang pampered nya sa kanila, at dahil first time nya makapunta sa lugar na madumi at mabaho, hindi nya napigilan yung ganung reaction nya. Nag-try sya pero hindi nya talaga kinaya.

So imagine kung naghirap sila at kelangan nya mamalengke ilang beses isang linggo. Magiiyak na lang sya everytime? So gets ko yung importance na i-expose natin ang sarili natin to some discomfort. Again, it also increases our appreciation sa mga bagay na meron tayo.

  • When dealing with annoying or difficult people, we should pause to reflect our own shortcomings.

Kasi as much as we find some people annoying, for sure meron ding mga na-aannoy satin.

When dealing with an annoying person, it also helps to keep in mind that our annoyance at what he does will almost invariably be more detrimental to us than whatever it is he is doing.

He adds that if we detect anger and hatred within us and wish to seek revenge, one of the best forms of revenge on another person is to refuse to be like him.

Kaya minsan fortunate din na maka-encounter ng mga tao na ganito. Kasi it’s a way to check ourselves na baka nagiging ganun din pala tayo.

  • Dealing with insults: If the insult is true, we shouldn’t be offended. And if it’s not, it’s foolish to let those insults upset us.

Haha oo nga naman. Kung totoo, bakit tayo maiinis? Totoo naman eh. Pero ang hirap naman i-achieve 😅 Pero ang ganda nung analogy na ginamit. Sabi kasi ni Seneca, yung mga tao daw na mahilig mang-insulto (whether true or not) ay mga isip bata.

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.

So yung cliché advice na, ‘Be the bigger person.‘ Eto yun. And yung advise nya on reacting to these insults is self-deprecating humor or look at that person in the eye and stay silent.

If a humorous response to an insult shows that we don’t take the insulter seriously, a nonresponse to an insult makes it look as if we are indifferent to the existence of the insulter: Not only don’t we take him seriously, but we don’t take him at all!

  • Seeking wealth and social status disrupts our freedom

In short, wag fame whore. Haha. May kilala kong fame whore. Hello Nick. Haha joke!

Stoics value their freedom, and they are therefore reluctant to do anything that will give others power over them. But if we seek social status, we give other people power over us: We have to do things calculated to make them admire us, and we have to refrain from doing things that will trigger their disfavor.

I think karamihan, highschool na-feel yung peer pressure. At one point nagpadala ako sa peer pressure and meron ding times na ako yung nagdudulot ng peer pressure. Nakaka-FOMO kasi pag may na-miss kang inuman. And it disrupts our freedom kasi we act in accordance to what our peers find agreeable kahit tinatamad talaga tayo or ayaw lang talaga natin. But if I know what I know now, sana mas naging confident ako noon to say no.

When it comes to luxurious living, siguro may mga times na pwedeng may cheaper option pero mas pinipili ko yung mas maganda sa paningin ko or yung mas convenient.

If we take to heart the advice of the Stoics and forgo luxurious living, we will find that our needs are easily met, for as Seneca reminds us, life’s necessities are cheap and easily obtainable. Those who crave luxury typically have to spend considerable time and energy to attain it.

William B. Irvine

He who knows contentment is rich.

Lao Tzu
  • Helping our fellow humans and working hard to make the world a better place

Nung binabasa ko yung simulang part, nagkaron ako ng medyo intense realization about other people and the world. So kung hindi dapat binibigyan ng much value ang wealth (“gusto ko may enough funds kaming maka-travel kung saan-saan at mas masarap siguro ang buhay kung kaya kong mabili agad yung mga gusto ko“), fame (“gusto kong ma-recognize ako as a great artist“), and pleasure (“parang ang sarap matulog in satin pajamas“), kung hindi importante lahat ‘yon, san ko na itutuon yung pansin ko?

So napa-search tuloy ako bigla sa Google ng, ‘Charities to donate’ at ‘How to help the environment’. Nakakapag-donate naman ako sometimes pero yung naging thinking ko ngayon ay pano ako makakatulong on a regular basis. Hindi lang dahil may nakita akong post tapos saka lang ako magbibigay. Grabe magiging saint na talaga ko sa mga binabasa ko.

When it comes to helping our fellow humans, the author is quick to admit that not all people are agreeable. But he continues to explain that, it is our social duty to feel concerned to all mankind.

On examining our life, we will find that other people are the source of some of the greatest delights life has to offer, including love and friendship. But we will also discover that they are the cause of most of the negative emotions we experience.

We have a duty to form and maintain relationships with other people, despite the trouble they might cause us.

At kahit may mga tao nga sa paligid natin na hindi agreeable and not so pleasant, meron naman daw tayong option to befriend whom we think shares our values.

They warn us to be careful in choosing our associates; other people, after all, have the power to shatter our tranquility—if we let them.

Besides advising us to avoid people with vices, Seneca advises us to avoid people who are simply whiny, “who are melancholy and bewail everything, who find pleasure in every opportunity for complaint.”

So yun yung mga lessons na na-pick up ko. Madami pa. Merong dealing with old age and death pero eto lang yung gusto kong i-highlight. Na-appreciate ko yung mga “tips” on how to deal with negative emotions. Because they can help preserve our sanity.

Although it indeed takes effort to practice Stoicism, it will require considerably more effort not to practice it.

So ang challenge ngayon, after finishing the book, is putting everything into action. And I can’t help but feel a little bit discouraged and overwhelmed kasi nga hindi sya madali. Pero in-address naman ‘to ni author sa medyo last part (like practicing one technique at a time). Plus he also says this about having a philosophy:

If you have a philosophy of life, decision making is 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. In the absence of a philosophy of life, though, even relatively simple choices can degenerate into meaning-of-life crises.

Yep yep. Agree.

And yung favorite part ko nga is yung medyo last part. I think eto yung sumagot sa doubts ko na, “Ang hirap naman maging tranquil most of the time. Agree ako sa gustong i-achieve ng Stoicism pero… posible ba talaga?? Posible ba na mabawasan dramatically yung feelings of anxiety, fear, anger, and all these other negative emotions? Over thinker pa naman ako. An expert in worrying. Ang hirap. Kasi it comes naturally to me. Ganito na ko for so many years. Posible ba talagaaa?”

And just like Digital Minimalism (for the hundredth time), Science ang nag-convince sakin na kaya naman (or kakayanin)! Kasi yung automatic pagdampot ng phone ko everytime mabakante lang ako ng ilang seconds at yung involuntary action na pagscroll ko sa social media, akala ko hopeless nang mabago ko ‘yon. Pero nung ginamitan ng Science explanations (specifically Psychology), kaya naman pala. Pero yun nga, basta set proper expectations.

So pano ginawa ‘yon dito sa book na ‘to? Una, it’s important to remember that the main difference of other animals from us humans is our ability to reason. And yung ability natin na ‘to ang naging means for us to survive and reproduce. Yun lang naman talaga ang game plan noon. Ang mag-survive sa wild at magreproduce. Pero mostly, hindi na natin problema ngayon yung problema ng mga ancestors natin noon. And ngayong modern times, we “misuse” our other abilities (like the ability to hear and walk). Ganito in-explain nung author kung pano ba ‘tong “misusing” our abilities:

Through evolution daw, it became possible for us to have the ability of hearing. And our ancestors use this ability to hear approaching predators, again, to survive. Pero ngayon, it’s rare for us to use our hearing abilities para malaman kung may bear or tiger ba na paparating. So pano natin ginagamit ngayong modern times yung hearing abilities natin? Listening to music for example. Listening to music does not increase our chances of surviving. So we “misuse” this ability kasi hindi natin sya ginagamit ngayon for its intended original purpose.

Same with walking. Nag-evolve tayo na makalakad para ulit maka-survive yung mga sinaunang tao (hunting and foraging). Ngayon we misuse it by dancing or climbing Mt. Everest. Again, hindi sila related for surviving.

Although our evolutionary programming helped us flourish as a species, it has in many respects outlived its usefulness.

And since may ability tayo to misuse these abilities, why not i-apply natin to sa mga natural tendencies natin like feelings of anxiety and anger, seeking social acceptance, wanting more — all of these are also essential for our ancestors to belong to a tribe and survive. Pero ngayong modern times, hindi na sya applicable for us to remain alive.

I know that I wouldn’t be able to explain this very well pero since I’ve read the book and this book report is primarily just for myself, serving as a future reminder and reference, okay lang siguro na hindi ko na ma-explain ng maayos. Pero let me try by quoting the book. Let’s take anxiety for example.

Consider anxiety. We are evolutionary programmed, as we have seen, to be worriers: Our evolutionary ancestors who, instead of worrying about where their next meal was coming from and about the source of that growling noise in the trees, sat around blissfully enjoying the sunset probably didn’t live to a ripe old age. But most modern individuals — in developed countries, at any rate — live in a remarkably safe and predictable environment; there are no growling noises in the trees, and we can be reasonably certain that our next meal is forthcoming. There is simply much less for us to worry about. Nevertheless, we retain our ancestor’s tendency to worry.

William B. Irvine

Knowing that anxiety is something na ‘namana’ natin sa ninuno natin, we can “misuse” our intellect to overcome this tendency. Let’s hack our brain to be more rational and reasonable. Wag magpapadala masyado kumbaga. I don’t know sa iba pero sakin pag ginamitan ng ganitong logic, nagiging effective sya sakin. Mas naiisip ko na attainable sya. Pero again, set proper expectations. Pwedeng ma-overcome ko sya ngayong araw na ‘to pero pwedeng isang araw hindi ko kayanin. The goal is to achieve a certain level of tranquility through regular practice.

RATING [5 🌟]

I loved the book. It’s very insightful and I appreciate the short history lessons about the birth of philosophy and the Greek and Roman philosophers who started it. The last part of the book talks about the author’s own experience while practicing Stoicism.

When I start having second thoughts about Stoicism, my current practice is to recall that we live in a world in which certainty is possible only in mathematics. We live, in other words, in a world in which, no matter what you do, you might be making a mistake. This means that although is is true that I might be making a mistake by practicing Stoicism, I might also be making a mistake if I reject Stoicism in favor of some other philosophy of life. And I think the biggest mistake, the one made by a huge number of people, is to have no philosophy of life at all.

There is, in other words, little to lose by giving Stoicism a try as one’s philosophy of life, and there is potentially much to gain.

William B. Irvine

The chapters were also laid out really well. After only reading the introduction, I was already convinced that me and Stoicism are a good match.

And with this long ass book report, I’m ending it with this quote:

Indeed, according to Marcus, it is possible, through the practice of Stoicism, to gain a whole new life.

Click to view my digital book shelf.


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