“A Guide to the Good Life: the Ancient Art of Stoic Joy” is a book about stoicism and the art of happiness.

It is written by Dr William B Irvine — an American philosopher. The cover of the book is black and white and a half-face beautiful girl with an unhappy mood is printed on it. The book contains 336 pages and it was published by Oxford University Press USA in 2009.

Dr William B Irvine is PhD holder and has been teaching in Wright State University since 1983. The book “A Guide to the Good Life: the Ancient Art of Stoic Joy” is his book which discusses the philosophy and history behind stoicism. In the very beginning of the book, the book contains a chapter of introduction in which the writer gives a brief introduction of the book. The chapter also deals with the philosophy of life and tells the importance of philosophy in one’s life. The book has further four major parts — the rise of stoicism, stoic psychological techniques, stoic advice and stoicism for modern lives. Moreover, each part has some further sections with different headings dealing with different matters.

The first part of the book, the rise of stoicism, has three sections of philosophy; it takes an interest in life, the first stoics and Roman stoics. The first section, under the heading of philosophy takes an interest in life, deals with the role of ancient philosophers such as Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Confucius and Buddha. It also tells about the two branches of Western philosophy — Italian and Ionian — and about the role of Socrates in the world of philosophy.

In the second section, Dr Irvine discusses the schools of philosophy by the first stoics. He declares Zeno as a first stoic and discusses the three basic components - ethical, physical and logical - of Zeno’s philosophy. The third section of Roman stoics deals with the contribution of ancient Roman Stoics such as Seneca, Musonius Rufus, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, in the field of stoicism.

The second major part of the book, under the heading of stoic philosophical techniques, has five sections and each section deals with a different subject. In the first section ‘Negative Visualization,’ the writer discusses the art of preventing bad things from happening. Moreover, he tells about the power of stoic technique that is to imagine losing things that we have and tells about the benefits of negative visualization.

The second section, the dichotomy of control, deals with the art of controlling external and internal circumstances and with the total and partial control over things. Fatalism, the third section of this part, tells about the beliefs of the people on fat and the fatalistic belief about the past, future and present.

The section of Self-Denial is about the idea of experiencing discomfort. The writer says that while experiencing discomfort in present, the discomfort of future will not seem bad. Furthermore, the section also tells about the dark sides of pleasure.  The fifth section, Meditation, deals with the idea of observing ourselves while practicing Stoicism and with the idea of examining the signs of progress.

The third part of the book, Stoic Advice, is the largest part of this book and having eleven sections of multiple captions. The first two sections, duty and social relations, discuss about our social duty and our social interaction with other people.  The sections give us lessons of tolerance, love, trust and maintaining balance in relationships. The next three sections of this part, insults, grief and anger, deal with the ideas of preventing insult, grief and anger. The writer says that we should always respond to the insult with humour and by accepting the reality we can overcome our grief. The two sections of personal values deal with themes of fame and wealth. Next three sections of exile, old age and dying deal with different notions. Exile, according to Dr Irvine, is just a change of place so we should not afraid of exile. On the matter of death he says that coherent philosophy of life makes it easy to face death. In the last section of this part, on becoming a Stoic, Dr Irvine urges us to become a stoic and start practicing Stoicism through becoming virtuous and appreciating what we have.

The last part of the book, Stoicism for Modern Lives, contains three further sections; decline of stoicism, stoicism reconsidered and practicing stoicism. In these three sections Dr Irvine discusses the reasons of the decline of stoicism in the modern world and criticizes psychology. In these sections he gives a comparison between stoicism and modern psychology, between stoicism and modern politics, and between stoicism and modern life.

Dr Irvine has used very simple language in his book. He gives a notion of modern stoicism and urges modern readers to practice stoicism.

–The writer Sareer Ahmad is doing his MPhil from Air University, Islamabad.