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.

Book Review – Ego is the Enemy

Book:  Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

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Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

We take risks. We mess up. The problem is that when we get our identity tied up in our work, we worry that any kind of failure will then say something bad about us as a person. It’s a fear of taking responsibility, of admitting that we might have messed up. It’s the sunk cost fallacy. And so we throw good money and good life after bad and end up making everything so much worse.

Ryan Holiday, Ego is the Enemy, p.189

You can’t tell from this carefully staged photo, but if you turn this book to its side and look at the edges you’ll see a disaster—about half a cup of coffee is splashed along the outer pages and leaves some embarrassing evidence of my clumsiness one fine November morning. It also quite clearly illustrates that “stuff happens” and regardless of the outer mess that sometimes gets thrown at us, at our core we can remain unchanged like the words on these pages.

Sure, there’s some coffee spilt and some pages are stained, but the words—the message—is still there if you’re willing to open the mess up and look for it. We still control our stories even if we can’t control the scratches, torn pages, and other “stuff” life happens to throw at us.

Your potential, the absolute best you’re capable of—that’s the metric to measure yourself against. Your standards are. Winning is not enough. People can get lucky and win. People can be assholes and win. Anyone can win. But not everyone is the best version of themselves.

Ryan Holiday, Ego is the Enemy, p. 197

Here, we have a book about the phantom of success. Ryan Holiday gives us a guide for practicing mindfulness and humility during the good times as a caution against the downfall that can follow when our egos run amok. Too often, when things are going our way and we’re winning, we begin to lose the perspective that helped get us to the top. Once that frame of reference is lost, it’s just a matter of time before we experience our own fall from grace.

The danger lies when we come to expect greatness but forget about the sacrifices or lucky breaks that led to our success. That’s where Holiday excels in this book. He delivers us a variety of material to help us find our center in a world of uncertainty where success and failure are not a matter of fairness but often a measure of both luck and perseverance.

Ego is the Enemy is a fast, accessible read and an entertaining source of real world histories and anecdotes that illustrate the perils of allowing the ego free range in our lives. Some may argue that the Ego can be a source of motivation that drives one to achieve greatness, but Holiday counters that the Ego is more often a toxic mindset.

We love the big personalities of our celebrities, trailblazers and industry pioneers. However, we tend to confuse personality with Ego when we create fictitious narratives about the lives of our heroes.

  • Ego tells us we’re the best and we will always be the best.
  • Perseverance acknowledges that we may be the best today, but that it’s going to be a lot of hard work to stay the best.
  • Personality reflects how well we communicate and connect with others.

Clearly, personality has nothing to do with either. We can have a great personality and be a terrible decision-maker. That’s the message I enjoyed the most in this reading. Through the lives and experiences of notable men and women, we get an opportunity to learn from their experience and a chance to mitigate our own failures.

Book Review – Stoicism and the Art of Happiness

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Stoicism and the Art of Happiness by Donald Robertson

The Stoics also emphasized the notion that by anticipating possible future adversities we can learn to take away the sense of ‘surprise’ or ‘shock’ that often accompanies their occurrence, seeing them instead as something natural and in some cases inevitable in life.

Donald Robertson, p. 159

The truth is that Stoicism has a lot to offer modern readers. However, I’ve found the predominant use of ancient Greek terminology to describe key concepts for English readers has had a dampening effect on its adoption in the US. There’s nothing wrong with using Greek words to describe Greek ideas. The problem is that many modern readers are unfamiliar with these foreign words. This means readers must learn both a “new language” and new cognitive strategies in order to make Stoic philosophy an accessible way of life.

A Strange New Vocabulary

  • Eudaimonia – happiness/sense of fulfillment from living a “noble” (Reason-focused) life
  • Ataraxia – tranquility/peace of mind
  • Hupexhairesis – reserve clause/Fate Willing/I’ll do all in my power, but I accept that it may not turn out how I planned.
  • Prosechê – attention to one’s mind/mindfulness of your thoughts

I think this is where Robertson has done a remarkable job in creating a textbook for modern Stoicism to rival the historic Handbook of Epictetus in it’s usefulness to the common reader. There are so many great texts on Stoicism—both ancient and modern—that it can be difficult to know where to start your search.

Robertson has made your decision effortless and given you the best of both worlds from Seneca to Hadot. If you want a solid understanding and a real chance at practicing the Stoic way of life, grab a copy of this book and start reading today. Robertson not only provides a slew of source material, but he also gives us a helpful format that provides structure and guidance as we learn how to approach life with Stoic mindfulness.

Additionally, the novel Teach Yourself format reinforces key concepts to help you maximize your understanding as well as easily refer back to the material as you interact with it. Some of the most helpful features include “Try it Now” practice exercises, “Case Studies” and “Self Assessments.”

Give this one a chance and experience the rich history of the Stoics while getting real world perspectives and even psychological insights from CBT – Cognitive Behavior Theory. Stoicism as a philosophy of life can help you achieve your best.