The Little Book of Stoicism: The Stoic’s Playbook

the little book of stoicism

The Little Book of Stoicism (2019) is a concise, yet deep overview of Stoicism. Jonas Salzgeber’s goal is to provide the reader with a manual choice for an enlightened, Stoic life.

Bullet Summary

  • Stoicism is a practical philosophy on how to live well
  • The modern positive philosophy is basically confirming (and repeating) what the old stoics applied thousands of years ago
  • We’re responsible -and capable- of controlling our happiness despite what happens around us

Full Summary

Jonas Salzgeber begins The Little Book of Stoicism by saying that he learned all kinds of subjects in school.
All kinds of them, except, well.. How to actually live well.

And that’s exactly what the ancient world philosophy used to be helpful for: a practical school of thought to help people lead better lives.
Stoicism was one of the best schools when it came to groundbreaking ideas on self-empowerment. And Salzgeber sets to explain to his readers, in simple words, plain English and with practical examples, what Stoicism is all about.

Stoicism: An Overview

Stoicism is a practical philosophy on how to improve our characters, control our mental states despite the external circumstances and, overall, live a good life.

So much was stoicism a practical philosophy that stoics saw themselves as warriors of the mind.
What really mattered for stoics was how well you could apply the principles to make a real difference in your character and in the quality of your life.

After a long dark age in which Stoicism fell by the wayside of philosophy, it’s now finally staging a come back into mainstream self-development.
It started with Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning and got more impetus thanks to popular recent authors such as Ryan Holiday, author of The Obstacle is The Way.
Positive psychology, by accident or by influence, is also helping the spread of Stoicism by confirming with “recent” studies what stoics have been saying and practicing millennia ago -Salzgeber says a good start on positive psychology is “The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor-.

Whatever is happening to Stoicism though, this truth won’t change: it’s an incredibly helpful philosophy and you can only improve your life when you will start practicing it.

The Stoic Happiness Triangle

The Stoic Happiness triangle could be a registered trademark of Jonas Salzgeber.
He devised it as a tool to explain Stoicism in a way that it’s easier for the new students to remember and understand some of the basic tenets of Stoicism.

At the center of the triangle is eudaimonia, which is the ultimate goal of the philosophy: a thriving life.
The three angles of the triangle, partially reinterpreted with my words for brevity, are:

  • Arete: strive to always express your highest self
  • Selective focus: focus on what you can control, take the rest as it comes
  • Take responsibility of your mental state: you are responsible for how you feel. Whatever happens around you cannot impact you negatively unless you allow it

Jonas calls “tower of strength” the decision of not giving outside events power over you, and I could not agree more.

This is of course not an easy task.
As a former mentor of mine once told me, it’s a “mountain without a peak”. Such as, it’s a life endeavor. You get better and better yet never really reach a finish line.
Your Stoic pursuit is a never ending journey.
But that’s also the beauty of it: since it’s such a sweet journey, walking the path is a reward in itself.

You Must Only Do Your Best

This is one of my favorite concepts -and there are many great concepts-.

Salzgeber says that you will never be perfect in all you do.
And that’s OK.
Sometimes you won’t even know what’s the best thing to do, let alone be perfect at it.
And that’s also OK.
Your goal is not perfection. Your goal is “only” to act with your best intentions, and to do your best, given the constraints of your current knowledge and circumstances.
“Just” your best. No less, no more.

Do It For Your Values, Not For An External Prize

Salzgeber says that we must strive to be our best selves for ourselves and for the pleasure of withholding our values.

Chances are that we will also reap more life benefits when we strive to do our best.
But we should never do it for the befits alone which, if they happen, are only the cherry on top of the pie.
This also ties back on focusing on what you can control: the reward is not under your control. Your actions are.

How to Become a Stoic

Salzgeber dedicates a major portion of his work to teach the readers how to become practicing Stoics.

He lists 55 different practices to get you well on your way to making you a happier, healthier and stronger human being.
They are all great, and here I pick a few I particularly liked:

  • Art of Acquiescence: Accept And Love Whatever Happens

Instead of fighting, aggressing, pushing back and complaining… Try accepting instead.
I believe this is an important message in a world of self-help that sometimes seems to perversely yell to people that “you can change anything”.
Yeah, maybe you can change quite a few things. But maybe you can also accept a few of them and move on?
And especially for those things you can hardly change, the art of acquiescence will definitely help improve your life.

I particularly liked Jonas’ words when he says:

I try to accept everything as if I had chosen it

  • Win at what matters

Here the author exhorts at focusing on what really matters for us and spending our time wisely.
Because many of us live like we’re going to live for ever, squandering our time only to realize too late that we’re running late.

  • Equanimity game

Here the auhtor quotes Brian Johnson, a guy whom I also love and listed in my “best free book summaries websites” list.
The equanimity game consists in catching your mind going into negative or unproductive states and see how quickly you can get back to a healthier, happier, or more productive state.

The equanimity game is like training for your mind.
And the result is a stronger mind and a happier life.

  • Take action

The author reflects on how many of us allow rude behavior to go on unchecked while we bottle up our anger and steam inside… Instead of simply asking the person to fix their behavior.

That’s very true and something that most of us can improve on. Especially the more passive aggressive ones. You can read more on 8 Keys to Eliminating Passive aggressiveness, Assertiveness: How to Stand Up For Yourself and People Skills.

Real Life Applications

The Little Book of Stoicism is all about practical applications:

Enjoy Things In Life Without Becoming Materialistic
Salzgeber says that Stoicism is about enjoying the beautiful things that life has to offer without clinging to them. And I loved that.
This idea of loving and enjoying life, including material aspects of it, but without descending into a hedonistic treadmill of consumerism is a concept I hold dear.

De-link Happiness From External Circumstances
A crucial tenet of Stoicism is that of not allowing external circumstances of dictating our moods, happiness and mental states.
A real power of strength, as the author puts it.

Everything’s Training
I love the idea of looking at life as a big training. It helps develop a growth mindset, lowers the pressure, improves your performance and, finally, it increases your ability to learn from your mistakes.

Stoic Quotes

The Little Book of Stoicism has a plethora of awesome ideas and great quotes.
These are some of the quotes I liked most.

On going after truth, not dogmas:

Zeno (founder of Stoicism) is our friend. But truth is an even greater friend.

On Stoicism as a philosophy for life:

Just as there is no use in medical study unless it leads to the health of the human body, so there is no use to a philosophical doctrine unless it leads to the virtue of the human soul

On focusing on process more than on results (this also reminded me of the role of luck and chance in life as in Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan):

The wise man looks to the purpose of all actions, not their consequences; beginnings are in our power but Fortune judges the outcome, and I do not grant her a verdict upon me

On starting on your Stoic journey:

How long are you going to wait before you demand the best of yourself?

There were a few passages that made me chuckle, for example:

The idea of Stoicism (…) is finding its way back into the lives of ordinary people like you and me (no offense).

On freedom, materialism and happiness:

You don’t need more and more stuff. You need less. And you’ll be freer.

And finally:

True wealth lies in wanting less.

CONS

Not Fully Agree on Forgiving & Kindness
Albeit I love and wholeheartedly agree with 98% of what what the author and Stoicism profess, in that 2% there is what in my opinion is a bit too much of a “live and let live” or “water off a duck’s back” type of attitude.
The idea of not fighting back when you’re treated meanly is one that I respect and that has a place in life.
However, I see pushing back on both meanness and on the assholes of this life not just something you do for yourself, but something you do for the world at large as well.
That’s one of the founding credo of this website. But then again, I write on a website called “the power moves” :).

Some Repetitions Sometimes
The author says that the story of Hercules bears repeating. I’m more the type of reader who likes streamlined texts with no repetitions whatsoever. So at times I thought the book could have been condensed a bit further.
But this is a con which you will find in most of my book reviews, and The Little Book of Stoicism is well within reason. Especially if you consider the vast amount of wisdom it packs in what’s, after all, still a small package.

PROS

I thoroughly enjoyed The Little Book of Stoicism, and I think these are some of its biggest pros:

  • Kettle powder of great mindsets

There is a crazy high amount of concentrated life changing wisdom here.

  • Wonderful overview of Stoicism

If you want to get an overview of Stoicism, from its history to its most life-changing ideas, this is your book.

  • Simple and practical

Salzgeber shows a knack for simplifying great ideas. The Little Book of Stoicism will clarify this wonderful philosophy even to complete beginners.

  • Highly effective self-help manual

Finally, The Little Book of Stoicism is one of the best self-help manuals available.
The author starts it off saying that school doesn’t teach you how to live, and by the time he ends it he does a great job of filling in for our educational system :).

Review

I read The Little Book of Stoicism in one fell swoop on long haul flight back to Europe.
And albeit sitting in crammed airplane is not most people’s definition of a good time -especially when children sit nearby :)- this book made it a really enjoyable flight.

For the sake of disclosure, I must say that this is probably the first review where I have been in touch with the author before reading the book.
But I also feel confident that I can keep my impartiality in my reviews.
I respect my readers, my website and my values too much to do anything else but writing high quality reviews -and that includes no favoritism-.

The Little Book of Stoicism is a great read and I can highly recommend it.
If one were to ask me what they should read to understand stoicism, I would preface my answer saying that I’m not the biggest expert in the field. And then the first book I would recommend them is The Little Book of Stoicism.

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