Part I begins by noting that the very idea of philosophy as a guidance to how to live one’s life is rather alien to the modern academic establishment. If you take an undergraduate course in philosophy these days you will definitely not encounter that topic. Which would have been rather puzzling to almost every philosopher before the 20th century, and certainly to the ancient Greeks who started this whole philosophy.
I then recount my own personal philosophical journey, which brought me from the abandonment of my Catholic religion to atheism, through the exploration of alternatives such as secular humanism, ethical culture and related views.
Part II explores where I landed after literally decades of (initially only occasional) searching: virtue ethics, i.e., the Greco-Roman idea that ethics is not — as we conceive it today — the study of right and wrong actions, but rather the study of what sort of life one ought to live.
I started my exploration of virtue ethics where people usually start it: with Aristotle. But I found his approach to be a bit too aristocratic (a common feeling about his version of virtue ethics), and moved on to explore other ancient philosophies as possible models, in particular Epicureanism (which, contra popular misunderstanding, isn’t a counsel for pure hedonism a la sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll). Eventually, I landed onto Stoicism, which is what I am exploring (in some depth) right now.
Finally, part III gets to the underlying point: why search for a life’s philosophy to begin with? Why not just wing it? And how is this different — ironically for a former believer — from religion anyway?
Here I rely heavily on William Irvine, who in his A Guide to the Good Life, asked himself the very same questions. and answered that, in a nutshell, developing a philosophy of life does three things: (i) it makes clear to us (and reminds us of) what we value; (ii) it gives us a sense of how to pursue what we value; and (iii) it saves us a lot of time by reminding us to avoid, or not to waste time, seeking what we don’t actually value.
Give it a try, see if it works for you.