In his book 12 Rules for Life, An Antidote to Chaos, Jordan Peterson writes that in order to live a better life, we must learn to pay attention to the things that bother us. This advice strikes me as counter-intuitive, yet incredibly profound. Want to live a better life? Want to live with more joy, peace, and happiness? Then the secret isn’t (as one might think) to ask ourselves “what would make me happy?” Instead, he says we must ask ourselves three questions:
“What is it that’s bothering me?” “Is that something I could fix?” and “Would I actually be willing to fix it?” If you find that the answer is “no,” to any or all of the questions, then look elsewhere,. Aim lower. Search until you find something that bothers you, that you could fix, that you would fix, and then fix it.
Maybe there’s a stack of paper on your desk, and you have been avoiding it. You won’t even really look at it, when you walk into your room. There are terrible things lurking there: tax forms, and bills and letters from people wanting things you aren’t sure you can deliver. Notice your fear, and have some sympathy for it. Maybe there are snakes in that pile of paper. Maybe you’ll get bitten. Maybe there are even hydras lurking there. You’ll cut off one head, and seven more will grow. How could you possibly cope with that?
You could ask yourself, “is there anything at all that I might be willing to do about that pile of paper? Would I look, maybe, at one part of it? For twenty minutes?” Maybe the answer will be, “No!” But you might look for ten, or even for five (and if not that, for one.) Start there.
Our feelings are signals. They will, if we pay attention, give us insight into ourselves and the world around us. They will, if we listen and follow and are willing to do hard things (but maybe not too hard, as Jordan Peterson suggests,) guide us toward a better life.
What bothers you?