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Why Can’t Life Be Simpler?

Jordan Peterson, is a best-selling author, one of the world’s great public intellectuals and a psychology professor at the University of Toronto. As a clinical psychologist, he knows how hard things can get. To him, there is no doubt…

life is tough!

If yours is not, one of your relatives is having a hard time. If not, just be patient, it’s coming.

Some say “shit happens“, others call it Murphy’s law… Damn it! Why have such a negative vision of life?

I’ll answer in 4 steps:

  1. Yes, it is negative.
  2. No, it’s not my vision of life (I’m not Murphy 😉). It’s a fact of life.
  3. A fact of life is not life in its essence. It’s only a partial description.
  4. So life can be both tough and worth living provided…

…we adopt an empowering mindset

For those who have been reading my articles, by now, you know I like to see things through the angle of how our biology determines our behavior. Let’s get started then.

1. Neurotransmitters activating a positive state do not signal “achievement” but “pursuit”

Positive emotions all nest in 2 basic needs: seeking food or reproduction. They are an encouragement for us to pursue the path we are in. Linking back to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, when they saw a prey or a fruit, it triggered a positive emotion. That positive state encouraged them to progress along that path until reaching completion.

This has been entrenched in our biology for millions of years. We share this circuit with many mammals. For instance, squirrels use the same circuit when looking for nuts.

The very role of positive emotions is not signaling achievement but rather that we are making progress in the right direction. Click to tweet

Point 1: don’t seek completion, seek progress.

2. Set expectations right: a side-note on marketing:

What is going on here? We’re conversing about Life with a big L, why talk Marketing?

Well, I do so because I believe it exemplifies the matter at hand. So bear with me. There is a rule in marketing that says:

Satisfaction is proportional to Expectations. – Click to tweet

Imagine that for some reason you have to spend the night in a city you know nothing about. All you want is sleep, wake-up, and leave. You pick the first hotel on a google geolocalized search. Once in, the staff is super welcoming, the food is great and the shower is hot and clean. Your satisfaction peaks. You even send instantly a selfie featuring the food to your best friend (looks familiar? ☺). A few weeks later, you come back to the same hotel. This time, your expectations are higher. At best the experience goes as expected at worst, any tiny inconvenience jeopardizes it.

As the scheme shows, even when the service level is roughly the same, your satisfaction differs. It may even turn into dissatisfaction! I’m not going to ask you to lower your expectations from life, rather you can apply what Alphaville was singing in the 80s, “Hoping for the best but expecting the worst”. In other words, put a dose of stoicism into your life.

Point 2: Manage your expectations.

3. Victim vs. Actor

That’s a recurrent theme of personal development. The exact same situation can trigger annoyance or enjoyment. For instance, many adults enjoy playing with kids. It’s not uncommon to see kids climbing the backs of older relatives. It can be really fun when you are IN the game. Yet, if you are tired, or trying to focus on a work problem, not only is it annoying, but you may even feel assaulted!

You are somehow a victim of the energy or focus mismatch. It’s no more the same situation.

Same goes for all situations in life. Whether you take the driver’s seat or not makes a huge difference in how you feel about it. This is even truer when talking about tough times.

Point 3: take the driver’s seat.

4. In search of meaning

Linking back to our ancestors in the primitive jungle, our brain evolved to save energy as a primary survival mechanism. In effect, the caveman hardly ate more than one meal a day. In net, only useful energy was spent. No utility, no stamina…

This links to a recurrent question we ask when required to make an effort. Let me exemplify with complaints when asked to do something you don’t want to. The most usual grieve is “Why?”. This common question we ask carries a meaning: “if there is a good enough reason, I would do it anyways. If not, I’m not moving a single finger”.

If you have to go through a tough life you may as well do it for a good reason. Something you truly believe in that makes the suffering justified… worth it. A strong enough motivation that kicks you out of your bed in the morning besides the annoying colleagues (I know it’s not always the case ☺) and the cold winter. Some call it “purpose”, others “meaning”…

Point 4: find your purpose.

What happens when you combine all 4?

It builds a suitable environment for your inner strength to thrive.

Why is that important?

Because you don’t know what’s lying ahead. Things can go anywhere ranging from extremely well to widely catastrophic. Even if you are able to control your life (which will never happen), a family member will not. Trouble can knock at the door at any moment.

I’m not advocating you should not follow your bliss. Rather, I’m saying:

  • You should not SINGLE MINDEDLY follow it.
  • Prepare for the best and expect the worst.
  • Stay strong.

Surprisingly, once you stop chasing happiness it knocks at the door. Why is that?

1. You stop expecting good things to happen out of the blue. You factor in that life is unfair, it’s no more a surprise. When you manage your expectations, your satisfaction goes up. Remember that marketing side-note referred to earlier?

2. Our reward system is intended to keep us in action, so stay active.

3. You forge your resilience muscle. You do not live tough situations as a victim but rather you choice-fully go after challenges. You take the driver’s seat.

4. WHY you do things start to matter. You do not measure how good you feel about it by the happiness it yields but by how meaningful it is.

Life is not meant to be simple…

As Marcus Aurelius said 
What stands in the way becomes the way.
Click to tweet

Seek happiness and you’ll find unhappiness… eventually.
Seek strength and you’ll find happiness… eventually.

Click to tweet

If interested in learning how to work with your nature and not against it, check out my book at

6 thoughts on “Why Can’t Life Be Simpler?”

  1. My dear friend.

    You have such nice way to approach in very simple words complex topics. It is a real strengths. I buy into most of the ideas shared.

    The only thing is this polarity between the best and the worst.

    Instead of preparing for the best and Expecting the worst, I would tend more to say: live the best every day, expect it, feel it. And welcome the worst arms open to strengthen your resilience. This same resilience that will make you see in the worst times, the best of it.

    There is a verse in the Holy Quran saying With the hard times is the best times. It did not tell after nor in. It says With.

    In all cases thank you for the writing. May I ask you please if I can use your diagram in one of my courses. I’ll say it’s from you and refer to your site?

    1. Hello Hicham
      Thanks for your nice words and thoughtful feedback. I agree with you. I’ll see how I can integrate it into the article.
      And yes you can use the model with pleasure. 🙂

  2. what about when your brain does not allow you to avoid recurrent melancholy? I mean, even if you make the decision to lower your expectations as a result of a reasoned decision and therefore mental will, your psyche – in the psychological sense of the word – catches up with you. You have to be mentally ‘clean’, by that I mean, free from ‘negative’ interference or I call them parasites. Some are not so lucky and the infernal cycle continues despite all the goodwill.

  3. Thank you for this enjoyable write up. Dissatisfaction is indeed a function of expectations.

    One question that bugs me is how some people are able to manufacture satisfaction out of thin air while others struggle to do it no matter what?
    It certainly has also to do with the “eyeglasses” we inherit from out family and surrounding, but that might be just a part of the equation.

    1. Hello Soufian,
      Tough question… Do you really expect an intelligent answer to that?! 🙂. OK. Let me give it a try!
      On the one hand, we need to learn to be contented with what we have… But this somehow hinders our potential. On the other, having big dreams can lead to big disappointments.
      Tough dilemna! So I’ve written an article about the topic 😉. Here is the draft for review before publishing:

  4. Pingback: What if Intuition was a Myth? – Better Mammals

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