“How to Live a Good Life.” Abstract of the book by Massimo Pilyucci

By the age of 35, I began to think about what principles to build my life on in order to feel happy more time. I read a little about stoicism, Buddhism, existentialism, and everywhere I found something for myself.

In search of books on the topic, I came across a work by Massimo Piliucci entitled “How to be a stoic.” He made a big impression on me.

I recently learned that Pilucci has released a book with a wide range of topics called How to Live a Good Life (“How to live a good life. A guide to choosing a life philosophy” in Russian translation).

Surely everyone has their own “philosophy of life.” We all at least roughly understand what is good and what is bad, and on the basis of this knowledge we are trying to build behavior. And we realize that everything is not eternal, and our “good” and “bad” are a system of coordinates far from universality, given by culture, religion, education …

And how not to understand this in the modern world: in the information space, like in a hypermarket, many teachings, ancient and modern, coexist, each with its own moral code, with its own definition of “good” and “right”. Choose the morality that suits and pleases, but you cannot choose – mix and compile from hundreds of traditions and schools.

How to Live a Good Life is a curious guide to ethical systems. It seems nothing surprising, but no. The main feature that distinguishes the book from a huge array of textbooks is that each of the 15 chapters is written by a native speaker and / or a specialist in a certain “philosophy”. Instead of abstract dead calculations, you look at the “correct life” through the eyes of an insider and immerse yourself in how the world is perceived by the same person as you. It’s a cool experience, even though the book doesn’t always cover the nuances perfectly and some of the chapters are too short. Of course, there are no conclusions and summaries here that define the very concepts of “good” and “good” – only hardcore relationalism!

For those who are interested (and who are thinking about how to make their life happier), I present a thesis retelling of the book by chapters.


Buddha statue.  Photo mrsiraphol @ freepik.com
Buddha statue. Photo mrsiraphol @ freepik.com

One of the best chapters. Its author, Owen Flanagan, writes that ethics is the foundation of Buddhism, where the purpose of life is to experience the joy of reducing the suffering and torment of others. If the Hindus instilled that life is just a link in the chain of rebirth, then the Buddha proclaimed that the world has come to an end, and the soul is not eternal, and that there will be no cycles and rebirths. The goal of life is to achieve nirvana, a liberation that can be achieved by helping others, reducing evil and suffering in the world around us.

Confucianism and Taoism

Temple dedicated to Confucius in Taiwan.  Photo tawatchai07 @ freepik.com
Temple dedicated to Confucius in Taiwan. Photo tawatchai07 @ freepik.com

Confucian ethics is about harmonizing the coexistence of people. We cannot live in isolation, in isolation from others. There is a connection between all people, and society, in turn, is connected with the rest of the Cosmos. Therefore, the “good life” for Confucians comes when society is prosperous and there are no conflicts.

Taoism also perceives as “correct” that behavior that takes into account and respects the universal interconnection, albeit with an emphasis on nature. It is necessary to understand the “rhythms” of Tao, correctly perceive the laws of nature and act in accordance with them, and not climb on the rampage where you need to yield. An interesting analogy is the comparison of the Taoist worldview with the “realtor’s thinking”: the agent negotiates with 30 clients, although he knows very well that he has only one house for sale. 30 sales physically cannot be made and 97% of the effort is wasted.


Fresco “School of Athens” by Raphael. Fragment with Plato and Aristotle

The famous “Nicomachean Ethics”, which laid the foundations of the Western ethical tradition, teaches to be guided by the principles of eudemonism. The highest good for a person is his personal happiness, and a normal person should be guided by it in all his actions. There are favorable external factors; there are, on the contrary, obstacles. Living a “good life” for Aristotle’s followers means effectively managing their talents on the path to happiness.

Stoicism and Epicureanism

Founder of Stoicism Zeno of Kitiysky, bust from the Museum of Gallo-Romanesque Culture
Founder of Stoicism Zeno of Kitiysky, bust from the Museum of Gallo-Roman culture

Probably the best chapter in the entire book. Stoicism is presented in many ways, as a metaphysical system and as a code of conduct that includes the four principles of virtue: wisdom, justice, courage and self-discipline.

Stoic understands that many events occur for reasons beyond the control of a person, against his will. And the best thing that can be done in this case is to remain in a state of equanimity and peace (ataraxia), not succumbing to the desire to change the situation over which you have no control on your own. Thanks to ataraxia, there is less room for negative emotions: after all, if you have been insulted, then before you fight back, it is better to think about why this happened. If the offender is right, then thanks to him – and if not, then why give in to his erroneous actions and make a mistake yourself?

The followers of Epicurus limited themselves to a single principle – pleasure (the more complex “happiness” of Aristotelianism was transformed into it). All of us, from birth, strive for pleasure and, most likely (thought the Epicureans) this is the meaning of a good life. However, this is still not pure hedonism and the pursuit of carpe diem. The main thing is to know what brings pleasure and what can end in suffering and choose wisely the most effective options, avoid problems and enjoy life.

Hinduism and Islam

Tirta Impul Temple in Bali, photo diana.grytsku @ freepik.com
Tirta Impul Temple in Bali, photo diana.grytsku @ freepik.com

Hinduism is, first of all, the concept of karma, which determines our future state based on the actions we have taken. Moreover, the future is not only in “this” life, but also beyond it, in new reincarnations (where your body itself will depend on righteousness in previous incarnations). The highest goal is to suffer for all previously created evil and get out of the circle of reincarnations, and for this you need to fill karma with good.

As for Islam, the main attention is paid to the so-called “progressive Islam” – a modernized and, apparently, rather secularized version of religion, which puts reason and equality of all before God at the forefront. I had not even heard of such a version before, which is why I could not deeply perceive the contents of the section.

Judaism and Christianity

Photo jcomp @ freepik.com
Photo jcomp @ freepik.com

Another well-written chapter, with a detailed and systematic presentation of moral principles – which, nevertheless, cannot be reduced to some kind of code (after all, we are talking about religion, not a philosophical system). We are all fairly familiar with these concepts, so I will just note the idea that in Christianity, human suffering is not evil as such, but part of the necessary path to personal development and growth. Through suffering, we understand what is “good” and “what is good.”

Ethical culture and secular humanism

Two ethical teachings that grew out of Christianity but abandoned belief in God. The ethical culture created by Felix Adler at the end of the 19th century proclaims the unity of moral principles, regardless of religious beliefs: people should care about each other, and not about their own profit and personal interests. You need to act not as an egoist and not as an altruist, but, first of all, in such a way as to reveal the best qualities and uniqueness in yourself and in others.

Existentialism and Pragmatism

Beauvoir and Sartre in Beijing
Beauvoir and Sartre in Beijing

In general, existentialism is a broad and contradictory philosophical movement, therefore, the book presents it succinctly, limited to the works of Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. In a nutshell, “good life” in their understanding is the one in which we become what we really are. Society imposes on us stereotypes, patterns that subdue us and do not make it clear what is our uniqueness – plus they try to deprive our worldview of the right to change … But if we want to be ourselves (and the goal is precisely this), then we must learn to resist environment and cliches and listen to your own individuality.

Pragmatism is close to existentialism in that it also rejects stereotyped moral and ethical norms. But instead of “searching for oneself,” the founding fathers of the teachings of Dewey and Pierce advocated the search for a “pragmatic” life: if the main task is to make existence comfortable, then one should seek and strive not for “true” things, but for what is beneficial. and at this particular moment. There is no “truth” and “good” as an absolute – it all depends on the conceptual scheme that we use to achieve goals.

Effective altruism

One of the final chapters of the book is devoted to this direction. Effective altruism is a modern teaching rooted in the utilitarianism of Jeremiah Bentham. The task of man and mankind is to find solutions that will positively affect the condition and well-being of as many people as possible. This is not only about broad charity, but also about the prioritization of scientific and political initiatives that can have a great impact on society. Everyone is obliged to improve the world in which we live, and to use the time that is allotted to the maximum effect – whether it is about philanthropy or the creation of innovative products. To achieve this, you need to develop yourself and increase your personal effectiveness.

Overall, How to Live a Good Life is an excellent book that gives a broad perspective. This is not only a look at how people from time immemorial have asked the question of “good”, “evil” and “right life”, but also an occasion to rethink their own ethical principles.

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