Book Review – A Field Guide to a Happy Life

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A Field Guide to a Happy Life: 53 Brief Lessons for Living by Massimo Pigliucci

You don’t go around being careless about nails getting into your shoes, and you walk in such a way as not to sprain your ankle. So why are you so careless about your ruling faculty [your mind or thoughts]? Why do you let it be offended and polluted by all sorts of garbage, instead of guarding it against assaults from without, and taking care from within to sharpen it as much as possible?

Massimo Piggliucci, A Field Guide to a Happy Life, Lesson 38

I’ve read several versions of Epictetus’ classic Handbook, and this is the first time I’ve been able to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. Coincidentally, I was actually writing my own interpretation of this text to use in my personal meditations when I came across this new edition. Maybe I’m just too lazy, but I found Piggliucci’s version met all of my needs and I ended up setting aside my little project. But I digress, the point is that before I found this version, I was stumbling over archaic translations or struggling with cultural bias from millennia ago. This book was the solution to those problems.

For the first time I found myself reading not just a new translation but an exciting interpretation of the Enchiridion. For those readers familiar with virtue ethics, you aren’t going to find anything truly new here. The lessons are timeliness. The principles unchanging, however, it’s still an excellent reminder of how perception frames everything in this life.

At the end of the day, I think this one is a keeper. After a long day of work when I find myself a little overwhelmed with my day, a quick glance at a couple of pages reminds to focus on what I can control. I let go of pretty much everything weighing on my shoulders. After all, most of our pain and frustration are the result of wanting something that’s beyond our control. Once we understand that trap, we can avoid the headaches and disappointment we experience when things don’t go our way.

If you’re looking for an introduction to Stoicism or maybe just some Reason and Common Sense, here’s an excellent choice whether you’re gifting it to friends or adding it to your own collection. It’s light, fun and practical. So pick this one up at your local bookstore and tell me what you think.

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