A defining moment of my life thusfar has been discovering this book, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine.
The discovery of this changed a lot of my thinking, because up to that point I had been confused as to my life’s goal. Religion and its purpose of service to God was important to my youth, but this really drifted away in college. I found some role models who were clearly Christian Hedonists (in hindsight) and I drifted away from them too.
Starting to think for myself, I found the swedish idea of ‘lagom‘ and began to think my life was really the pursuit of moderation, or balance. But this seemed to be more helpful as a mechanic, or detail, not really fulfilling as a life’s goal. Reading Irvine’s book, I learned that the stoic sage pursues virtue above all else. Seneca teaches that ‘virtue is sufficient for happiness’ and the sage, full of virtue, then feels no misfortune.
By no means am I a stoic sage. More and more I think no ever has been or will be. But this pursuit of virtue has certainly treated me well. Feeling less anger helps me soothe the anger in others. The act of negative visualization helps me focus on important priorities and resolve grief. Desiring less helps you save more.
The difficulties I face most are when the pursuit of virtue turns into fits of guilt. My terrible habits of procrastination feed this even more. When I fail in a daily exercise, I often feel like I fail in my entire philosophy of life. But these feelings are temporary, and they help you continue with greater strength in the future.
Most importantly, this pursuit has shaped my philosophy of life. How I think I should handle a given day, problem, or question is no longer vaguely determined but is instead set against a set of principles I truly believe. I’ve chosen to believe in principles that make the world better and myself a better person in it.