Jordan Peterson on Living a Meaningful Life

How can you live a meaningful life? It’s a vague question, but renowned professor of psychology, Jordan B. Peterson gives the “secret to a meaningful life” into surprisingly tangible practices. 

In his book 12 Rules for Life and in numerous talks viewed by millions on YouTube, Peterson lays the groundwork with what most people don’t want to hear: you must take responsibility. 

That means stepping up and owning your mistakes. Though life is suffering, Peterson says you’ll never find meaning if you play the victim. Recognizing your role — at least as partial perpetrator — is where the journey begins. It might sound like a depressing perspective, but the point isn’t to focus on your mistakes or shortcommings but to use this recognition to pivot toward the meaning and life you actually desire.

Taking responsibility is a major challenge, but that’s the point. If you set your goals too low, where’s the accomplishment? However, this “phenomena of meaning” also requires being realistic. If your goals are impossible to attain, you’ll never get the reward. Peterson calls this tension a “nuance of order” between accomplishment and challenge (or chaos); this is where meaning will manifest in your life. 

Here’s a condensed list of Peterson’s advice on living a meaningful life:

  1. Decide to be worthwhile. It’s what Peterson calls “a decision of love.” 
  2. Internalize responsibility. Externalizing responsibility will leave you static. “Accept the responsibility for the chaos in your life,” says Peterson, “and then you will paradoxically transcend the chaos.” 
  3. Don’t play the victim. Release your resentment and hatred. Taking responsibility puts positive power in your hands! 
  4. Stop lying. Be honest with yourself and with others without being too harsh.
  5. Be willing to lose your life in order to find it. Peterson calls this “a massive risk,” but also the most worthwhile. 
  6. Compare yourself with who you were yesterday, not with who someone else is today. Since every individual is unique, it’s impossible to compare yourself with anyone but yourself, says Peterson. Focus on your personal growth. 
  7. Be humble. Improvement starts with acknowledging that you need it! 
  8. Embrace discovery. It might seem paradoxical, but discovering your potential starts with discovering your flaws. “Don’t let what you are stop you from being what you could be,” says Peterson. 
  9. Define your personal hell. Now you can devote your efforts to avoiding it and working towards your ideal life.
  10. Engage challenges. Peterson says “I want to find out where there’s not enough of me yet.” If you’re looking for meaning, it’s better to be engaged in the solution of a complex problem than to not have a problem at all. 
  11. Make your internal critic work for you. Use your internal critic to identify what changes you want and are able to make. Change can be difficult, but the reward is your full potential. And it’s okay to start small! 
  12. Know your limits. Make vacations a priority, regardless of how much work you have, because the work isn’t going anywhere but you can! 
  13. Calibrate your game. You want to be able to keep playing tomorrow and next month and next year. Don’t make choices that lead to self-hate or exhaustion.
  14. Take on just the right amount of chaos. You don’t have to fix everything at once. Start by fixing the things you can fix, or at the very least, the things you want to fix. 
  15. Specify success! Make a list of long term and short term goals that you believe will improve your life, so that you can measure and celebrate your progress!