A Plan for Living

Issue #3 of Rinaldo's weekly newsletter

Hello friends,

Here's a tough question...

What do you want out of life?

In asking what you want out of life, I am asking the question in its broadest sense. 

I am asking not for the goals you form as you go about your daily activities, but for your grand goal in living.

In other words, of the things in life you might pursue, which is the thing you believe to be most valuable?

Many people will have trouble naming this goal. 

I have trouble naming this goal.

Most of us know what we want minute by minute or even decade by decade during our life, but we have never paused to consider our grand goal in living.

It is perhaps understandable why we didn't. Our culture doesn't encourage people to think about such things; indeed, it provides us with an endless stream of distractions so we won't ever have to.

But a grand goal in living is the first component of philosophy in life.

This means if you lack a grand goal in living, you lack a coherent philosophy of life.

Without one, there is a danger that despite all your activity, despite all the pleasant diversions you might have enjoyed while alive, you will end up living a bad life.

Even if you identify your grand goal in living, there is a danger that you will mislive it. Therefore, the second component of a philosophy of life is a strategy for attaining your grand goal IN LIVING.

This strategy will specify what you must do, as you go about your daily activities, to maximize your chances of gaining the thing in life that you take to be ultimately valuable.

In this email, I don't offer suggestions or claim to have a solution for you on how to discover what your grand goal in life is. I also struggle with finding an answer to this question. I just wanted to bring this question up. It's up to each individual to find answers for themselves.

For over 6 years now, I focused my attention on a philosophy that I have found useful (at most times) and I suspect many of you know about. It is the philosophy of the ancient Stoics.

It may be old, but it benefits the attention of any modern individual who wishes to have a life that is both meaningful and fulfilling.

If you want to dive into Stoicism you might discover many popular book recommendations like Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, Seneca's Letters or Ryan Holiday's work. My personal recommendation would be to start with A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by Michael B. Irvine.

My interest in Stoicism is resolutely practical: my goal is to put this philosophy to work in my life. Another thing to realize is that although Stoicism is a philosophy, it has a significant psychological component.

The Stoics realized that a life plagued with negative emotions, including anger, anxiety, fear, grief and envy, will not be a good life. They, therefore, became acute observers of the working of the human mind and as a result some of the most insightful psychologists of the ancient world.

If you embark on this journey you might find that Stoics turn their attention to the pursuit of tranquility and what they call virtue. Stoic virtue has very little in common with what people today mean by the word.

Practicing stoicism obviously takes effort as anything genuine in life. But it doesn't require you to set aside blocks of time in which to 'do stoicism'. 

It does require to periodically reflect on your life, but these periods of reflection can generally be squeezed into odd moments of the day, such as when we are stuck in traffic, walking or as Seneca says when we are lying in bed waiting for sleep to come.

Have a great week!

-Rinaldo Ugrina