Book review : 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson
12 RULES FOR LIFE is a stern, story-based, and entertaining self-help manual for young people that lays out a set of simple principles that can help us become more disciplined, behave better, act with integrity, and balance our lives while enjoying them as much as we can.
Nobody likes rules, and everyone loves freedom. There are various parameters of success, and its definition is different for everyone. But one element remains constant — freedom. People want more money because money buys luxuries that provide you freedom. If you are wealthy enough, you can take early retirement, chill in your forest cabin and read books. For the longest, people thought the accurate definition of success is your net worth. Still, as our civilization advanced, it can be seen, especially in millennials, that their meaning of success has changed drastically. Yes, money still happens to be the determining factor for most of it, but millennials value complete freedom over just financial freedom. What is total freedom, though? You are completely free when you have control over your finance, time, schedule, and location. Freedom is a big deal because every employment agreement requires you to attend an office for a determined period. Millennials don’t like this. They hate 9 to 5. That’s why we can see a surge in the number of entrepreneurial ventures. In a nutshell, people hate rules. Norman Doidge writes the foreword of the book ’12 Rules for Life’, and the very first sentence he writes is — ‘Rules? More Rules? Really?’ But rules are essential for life. They make us disciplined, and we become more harmonious with our overall purpose in life. But why will you follow the rules given in this book? Well, the answer lies in the name of the author itself. If you don’t already know, Jordan B. Peterson is one of the most influential and vital personalities in the field of psychology. He is a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. He has published more than a hundred scientific papers with the assistance of his students. His works have revolutionized psychology, making him one of the most prominent faces of this field.
Peterson starts the first rule of the book with a detailed analysis of lobsters. Yes, lobsters! He goes on and on, rambling brilliant facts and observations about lobsters and how serotonin affects their actions. For the first couple of pages, I was lost and, honestly, a bit disappointed. I enjoyed the observations on lobsters, but I found them highly unnecessary. But soon, the author established a correlation between the lobster’s behavior and us humans. So, if you are thinking about buying this book, be prepared for the long routes that the author takes to make his point, which is worth it in the end, by the way.
Lesson 1: Before you judge the world, take responsibility for your own life.
Life isn’t fair. We all learn that one way or other. Some of us sooner, some later, some in small ways, some from terrifying blows. But we all realize it eventually.
Peterson’s beliefs about a good life: No matter how unfair life gets; you should never blame the world. There’s always someone who’s suffered worse than you. Besides, even though the future may sometimes look bleak, if you can focus on taking responsibility and keeping your own house clean, so to speak, you’ll find the bad times will pass.
Lesson 2: Care for yourself like you would for a loved one.
Have you ever gotten a prescription from the doctor and thought: “Naaa, I don’t need that?” Over one third of people do it regularly. According to Peterson, it’s neither smart nor smug. It’s a subversive form of self-punishment. We do it a lot and, as a result, tend to take better care of others than ourselves.
Peterson suggests this is a consequence of our inability to deal with the insanity of life described above. Just like Adam and Eve had to taste the forbidden fruit of knowledge, we too indulge in our dark sides from time to time and thus, feel we deserve punishment. But, as with the unfairness of life, we all got thrown out of the Garden of Eden. Like Yin and Yang, we all carry both light and dark inside us. One can’t exist without the other. That means instead of just striving for either one, we should seek balance, which is why his second rule is to care for yourself like you would care for a loved one: do what is best for you, even though it might not always make you happy.
Lesson 3: Seek meaning through sacrifice, not happiness through pleasure.
Balancing your light and your dark side can take many different forms. Sometimes, it may be staying in bed to get healthy, even though you want to work. Other times, it might mean staying late at work on a Friday. However, it looks like, it always involves choosing meaning by making a sacrifice, rather than temporary happiness by choosing pleasure.
Peterson says this is a great coping mechanism, because it helps balance your life between drowning in hedonism and being so righteous it drives you mad. Of course, not all sacrifices are equal. Those you make for personal gain, like working overtime to pay for a vacation, hold less meaning than those you make for the greater good, like volunteering on a Saturday. Even though it might feel like it when you do it, sacrifice is never really about giving up rewards, it’s about deferring them until you can get something even better, usually a feeling of whole-ness or contentment. As such, it’s also great willpower training.
An analogy Peterson makes which I like, The Lotus flower starts out at the very bottom of the lake, drenched in darkness. Inch by inch, it grows its way towards the surface, until, eventually, it breaks through and into the sunlight. I could sure think of worse ways to spend a life than to be a Lotus flower.
It’s full of Stories, Science, Myths, a broad mix of engaging ways to get his message across. It’s mainly targeted at male millennials, but don’t let that stop you. There’s something for everyone in 12 Rules for Life.