A guide to the good life

This is a book I got off Derek Sivers reading list. Had plenty of rave reviews, so I thought I’d give it a shot. It’s the first real philosophical book I’ve read in a while, and I’m convinced I’d like to read more.

There were plenty of cases where I found myself nodding along and thinking “these are all things I’ve told myself countless times!” .. the amazing feeling of satisfaction you get when you see, written in words, what you’ve figured out on your own all along never grows old.

I saw the book as a list of great things and ideas that people can apply to become better masters of themselves, and ultimately to leave this world without the remorse of having “not lived”.

I found most of the actions completely compatible with Islam. I feel like these actions as slices into a cake that is Islam .. little bits of perspective that ultimately miss the whole.

The authors attempts at explaining the why behind these actions (in essence, building from first principles) fell short of convincing me that they are somehow interconnected. It just seemed to me like a list of things that should be practiced because they make sense and they work .. which may be true, but it’s still pretty darn dry.

I feel like my Islamic faith fills in all the gaps that the author struggles to reconcile, and provides life with an overarching purpose. While the actions will ultimately look similar, knowing that why makes a world of difference.

Notable quotes

If you only want what you already have, this makes you question your motivations for striving for more (something that most people would reflexively answer with “because I want it”). This doesn’t mean that you won’t be motivated to strive for more, but your motivation would be of a different kind (e.g. making the world a better place vs. making myself happier).

Pay attention to your enemies, for they are the first to discover your mistakes.

bad men obey their lusts as servants obey their masters, and because they cannot control their desires, they can never find contentment.

the pursuit of virtue results in a degree of tranquility, which in turn makes it easier for us to pursue virtue.

God, he said, does not make a spoiled pet of a good man; he tests him, hardens him, and fits him for his own service.

Misfortune weighs most heavily on those who expect nothing but good fortune.

One key to happiness is to forestall the adaptation process: we need to take steps to prevent ourselves from taking for granted, once we get them, the things we worked so hard to get.

The easiest way for us to gain happiness is to learn how to want the things we already have.

Spend time imagining that you had lost the things we value; this negative visualization technique is the single most valuable technique in the Stoics’ psychological tool kit.

Indeed, many people have a catastrophe-free – and as a consequence, joyless – life. (Ironically, it is these people’s misfortune to have a life that is blessedly free of misfortune).

There is a difference between contemplating something bad happening and worrying about it. Contemplation is an intellectual exercise, and it is possible for us to conduct such exercises without its affecting our emotions.