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.

Book Review – Think and Grow Rich

Book: Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

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Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve. —N. Hill

There’s always a place in my home for a textbook on how to win in life. I can’t promise Hill has all of the answers. What I can guarantee is that he has some wild ideas, but in the end you’re going to appreciate his philosophy of action and effect. Sometimes we need the not so subtle reminder that our failures in life can be our own fault.

We have the remarkable ability to choose our thoughts, words and actions. So, at the end of the day we have to acknowledge our ownership of our personal lives. We can choose how we think, and as a result we can grow into our vision of the future. It only makes sense to recognize that how we spend our time and thoughts will have a large impact on how we achieve the future of our dreams.

I have read this text at least once a year for the past three years, and every time I find the seed of motivation I need to make the life changing actions necessary to be resilient in the face of adversity. I can’t promise this will work for you, but I can confess my life, career and prosperity have increased each year since I’ve begun this journey.

I fondly wish you the resilience necessary to be steadfast as you begin your own journey toward a brighter future.

Book Review – The Teachings of a Roman Stoic by Musonius Rufus

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That One Should Disdain Hardships by Musonius Rufus

If anyone thinks that wealth is the greatest consolation of old age, and that to acquire it is to live without sorrow, he is quite mistaken; wealth is able to procure for man the pleasures of eating and drinking and other sensual pleasures, but he can never afford cheerfulness of spirit nor freedom from sorrow….

Musonius Rufus, Lesson 17

Today’s review is on a classic text that’s hard to avoid when we talk about Stoicism. To be honest, Musonius isn’t on many people’s list of their top 3 Stoics. That’s an honor usually saved for Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus. However, he was an incredibly influential teacher who unfortunately didn’t leave his own writing behind for us to explore. Instead, history has given us the chance to review a written piece by an unnamed student as well as several fragments attributed to Musonius.

I think it’s important to remember that Musonius didn’t write this collection. That means we lose the ability to discern how accurate these notes are to the teacher’s intent, but I do think they show us a fairly decent insight into how the Romans viewed the role of philosophy in the first century. Philosophy existed as system to reinforce order in Roman society. Purpose was derived from how your actions benefited the greater good—which really means the Empire. Keep this in mind as you read.

The author relies heavily on the use of logical proofs to demonstrate the validity of his viewpoint. That means that we see some errors as modern readers that may not have been so obvious 2000 years ago. Namely, today we can see the flaw in drawing conclusions based on how we feel the universe should operate. We are less likely—I hope—to justify our actions and beliefs by claiming we’re following the “will of the gods” or some humanized concept of Nature.

We look for truth and let facts challenge our understanding of how the world works. We recognize that our perspective and beliefs significantly influence our reasoning. We also acknowledge that historically we have attempted to create systems and cultures that reinforced our understanding of how we wanted the world to work. It is against those systems of ingrained thinking that we now fight to overcome ancestral bias. Patriarchal cultures tend to create systems that enforce male authority. Theocratic cultures tend to create systems that reinforce religious autonomy. If we’re not aware of our cultural influences, how can we ensure we are not unjustly influenced by them?

This collection responds to 21 practical questions from students on how we can live our best lives in ancient Rome. The goal of each lesson was not to present perfect and logical deconstructions of life, but to present a basic and very high level validation on why we should live our lives in the Stoic manner. In many ways, the ultimate justification relied on the presupposition that 1. the gods exist (a definite belief in the Roman era) and 2. that you can decipher their will by observing Nature.

Although there are some great lessons on the value of living in accord with Stoic principles in this text—many, many, many assumptions are flawed due to the historical beliefs of the period. Some very hot topics from millennia ago are bound to still wrinkle noses today. All I can say is that I clearly disagree with Musonius’ arguments on sexuality, vegetarianism, marriage and reproductive rights. I’m sure I’m forgetting a few more issues that didn’t get my support as well, but you get my point.

For Musonius, the aim of life is not only to live in accordance with Stoic virtues (principles) that were established by the gods but also to reproduce and continue the legacy of Rome. Both of those foundational tenants are inconsequential to me. I don’t need gods to define what principles I should value. I don’t need to have children to fulfill a responsibility to either the gods or the state.

At least I can take comfort in the fact that Musonius challenges his students to be on their guard against accepting false arguments. Maybe he knew he was limited by the willingness of his audience to hear his message. In the end, though I recommend any Stoic read this seminal work, I’m going to suggest everyone else pass on it.

As for the pupil, it is his duty to attend diligently to what is said and to be on his guard lest he accept unwittingly something false.

Musonius Rufus, Lesson 1