Hi, everyone. I’m going to talk to you today about a book that I’m publishing in January of 2018. It’s called 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos and it’s going to be published by Penguin Random House.

I’m going to tell you how it came about first and then I’ll describe the book’s contents and then I’m going to read you a little bit of it.

OK. In 2012, I did a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation program called Say No to Happiness. And in that program, I critiqued the idea that happiness was the proper goal of life, claiming instead that it’s much more useful and effective perhaps even for producing happiness to look for meaning and responsibility in life.

Anyways, I received the following email as a consequence. Dear Dr. Petersen, your comments on the CBC program Say No to Happiness were both thought-provoking and challenging.

They had me asking bigger questions and that is always tremendously appealing. To be perfectly honest, some aspects were harder for me to understand than others, but I was left wanting to know more.

Have you considered writing a book for a general, rather than academic, reader? I’m a literary agent and co-owner at the Cook Agency. We have experience with academics interested in writing for a broad audience, working with them to remove the scaffolding that is required in academic writing and helping to make their work more accessible.

We specialize in selling authors to international markets and developing their writing careers. You can find out more about us at www.cookagency.ca. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sally Harding. So a literary agent represents an author and attempts to market their books. And so they can be extraordinarily useful people.

And in return for that, they get a percentage of the book’s profits and that’s how they make their living. So it’s a difficult job, especially now because the market for books is very complicated and increasingly restrictive, I would say, to a few extremely successful authors.

Anyways, Sally got a hold of me and I’d thought for a long time about writing a more popular version of my first book called Maps of Meaning.

And I actually produced almost a complete manuscript that was let’s call it a simplified version or– I wouldn’t say simplified exactly, more– well, I tried to make it more accessible.

But I was never really happy with it. I never really felt that it got its legs underneath it, I suppose. And maybe that’s because I was duplicating something that I’d already done.

I was thinking very hard about what to do about this and how I might approach it because Sally was interested and I thought it might be a good thing to try to write a book for a more general audience.

And we talked for a while and we discussed a few ideas. This was back in 2012.

And I mentioned to her that I had written something for Quora, which is an online website, obviously, where anybody can post any question and anyone can answer it and then the questions are voted on.

And Quota’s quite interesting, I would say. And I had written a variety of answers because I was playing around with it.

And some of them, as it always is, attracted much more attention than others. And somebody posted, I think it was a young guy, posted this question, what are the most valuable things everyone should know?

And so I answered it. I listed, as it was, 42 rules to live by. And some of them were kind of amusing, I thought, and some of them were dead serious.

Anyways, it became very popular on Quora and as of now, it has 174,000 views and 2,500 up votes, which makes it one of Quota’s most popular answers, as it was soon after I posted it.

And I thought, well, people really liked those rules, there was something about them that appealed to them. So what if I write a book based on the rules?

And so I’ll read you the rules. OK. Maybe you’ll find them interesting. Tell the truth.

Do not do things that you hate, which I think is a variant of telling the truth because you have to act out the truth, as well as telling it.

Act so that you can tell the truth about how you act, that’s obviously related to the first two. Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient.

If you have to choose, be the one who does things instead of the one who is seen to do things. Pay attention.

Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you need to know. Listen to them hard enough so that they will share with you. Plan and work diligently to maintain the romance in your relationships.

Be careful who you share good news with. Be careful who you share bad news with. Make at least one thing better every single place you go.

Imagine who you could be and then aim single-mindedly at that. Do not allow yourself to become arrogant or resentful.

Try to make one room in your house as beautiful as possible. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.

Work as hard as you possibly can on at least one thing and see what happens. If old memories still make you cry, write them down carefully and completely.

Maintain your connections with people. Do not carelessly denigrate social institutions or artistic achievement.

Treat yourself as if you were someone that you are responsible for helping. Ask someone to do you a small favor so that he or she can ask you to do one in the future.

Make friends with people who want the best for you. Do not try to rescue someone who does not want to be rescued and be very careful about rescuing someone who does.

Nothing well done is insignificant. Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world. Dress like the person you want to be.

Be precise in your speech. Stand up straight with your shoulders back. Don’t avoid something frightening if it stands in your way, and don’t do unnecessarily dangerous things.


Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them. Do not transform your wife into a maid. Do not hide unwanted things in the fog.

Notice that opportunity lurks where responsibility has been abdicated. Read something written by someone great.

Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street. Don’t bother children when they’re skateboarding. Don’t let bullies get away with it.

Write a letter to the government if you see something that needs fixing and propose a solution. Remember that what you do not yet know is more important than what you already know and be grateful in spite of your suffering.

So those were the 40-odd rules, and people were pretty happy with them. And then something odd happened.

So a friend of mine is a novelist, Greg Hurwitz. And Greg wrote a book that’s become very popular called Orphan X. And one of the characters in that book, the female lead I would say, an off and on again wrote romance interest for the main character, posted these rules on her fridge and so they were peppered throughout the book.

So that was kind of an interesting development, I thought. And then because they were so popular and Quora, I talked to Sally about the possibility of turning them into a book.

And so my original vision was to write 42 short essays. I thought that would be– and I was going to call the book 42, which I thought was quite funny because if you remember, the answer to life, the universe, and everything from Douglas Adams was 42.

A computer calculated that. So I thought it would be amusing to write a book called 42 that contained answers to life, the universe, and everything.

But when I started writing the book, it turned out that I had more to say about each of the rules than I had originally envisioned. And so I first cut it down to 25 and wrote some essays, and then I cut it down to 16.

And it was still too long, and then I cut it down to 12, which turned out to be a good thing anyways because if you write a book, you should write way more than you’re going to publish and then cut.

Because that way, you’re only left with what’s best. So anyways, I wrote for about three years– well, no, it’s more than that now.

I guess it’s almost five years because I just finished the book in September. So it took about four or five years to write, and I was writing pretty regularly.

What I’m going to do is read to you a little bit of it, I think. This is the book here. That’s a galley copy, and a galley copy is a preprint of a book so that you can get some sense of what it looks like.

It’s got some nice illustrations in it, I think, by this comic book author named Ethan van Sciver. So that’s kind of a rough one on chapter three, “Treat Yourself Like Someone You are Responsible for Helping.”

Ethan is a comic book artist, he’s a great Illustrator. And he put each one of my kids, I have two kids, one of them in each illustration sort of contemplating the complexities of life, I guess that’s how you might subscribe it.

So that’s one illustration. I’ll show you another one. So that’s my son, Julian, there looking up at the great statue of David.

And David, of course, is an inspirational statue. It’s a representation of what you could be. And that’s rule three, make friends with people who want the best for you.

And I think I’m going to read some of that to you right now. Each rule is divided into subsections– small subchapters, let’s say– and I’ll read you one of those so you’ll get some sense of the book.

Rule three, make friends with people who want the best for you. The old hometown.

The town I grew up in had been scraped only 50 years earlier out of the endless flat northern prairie. Fairview, Alberta was part of the frontier and had the cowboy bars to prove it.

The Hudson’s Bay Company department store on Main Street still bought beaver, wolf, and coyote furs directly from the local trappers.

3,000 people lived there, 400 miles away from the nearest city. Cable TV, video games, and internet did not exist.

It was no easy matter to stay innocently amused in Fairview, particularly during the five months of winter when long stretches of 40 below days and even colder nights were the norm.

The world’s a different place when it’s cold like that. The drunks in our town ended their sad lives early. They passed out in snow banks at 3:00 in the morning, froze to death.

You don’t go outside casually when it’s 40 below. On first breath, the arid desert air constricts your lungs. Ice forms on your eyelashes and they stick together.

Long hair wet from the shower freezes solid and then stands on end, wraith-like of its own accord later in a warm house when it thaws bone dry, charged with electricity.

Children only put their tongues on steel playground equipment once. Smoke from house chimneys doesn’t rise.

Defeated by the cold, it drifts downwards and collects like fog on snow-covered rooftops and yards.

Cars must be plugged in at night, their engines warmed by block heaters or oil will not flow through them in the morning and they won’t start.

Sometimes they won’t anyways. Then you turn the engine over pointlessly until the starter clatters and falls silent. Then you remove the frozen battery from the car, loosening bolts with stiffening figures in the intense cold, and bring it into the house.

It sits there sweating for hours until it warms enough to hold a decent charge. You’re not going to see out of the back window of your car, either.

It frosts over in November and stays that way until May. Scraping it off just dampens the upholstery, then that freezes, too. Late one night going to visit a friend,

I sat for two hours on the edge of the passenger’s seat in a 1970 Dodge Challenger jammed up against the stick shift using a vodka-soaked rag to keep the inside of the front windshield clear in front of the driver because the car heater had quit.

Stopping wasn’t an option. There was nowhere to stop. And it was hell on house cats. Felines in Fairview had short ears and tails because they had lost the tips of both to frostbite.

They came to resemble arctic foxes, which evolved those features to deal proactively with the intense cold.

One day our cat got outside and no one noticed. We found him later, fur frozen fast to the cold, hard concrete, with no lasting damage except to his pride.

Fairview cats were also at great risk in the winter from cars, but not for the reasons you think. It wasn’t automobiles sliding on icy roads and running them over.

Only loser cats died that way. It was cars parked immediately after being driven that were dangerous. A frigid cat might think highly of climbing up under such a vehicle and sitting on its still warm engine block.

But what if the driver decided to use the car again before the engine cooled down and the cat departed? Let’s just say that heat-seeking house pets and rapidly rotating radiator fans do not co-exist happily.

Because we were so far north, the bitterly cold winters were very dark. By December, the sun didn’t rise until 10:00 AM.

We trudged to school in the pitch black. It wasn’t much lighter when we walked home just before the early sunset.

There wasn’t much for young people to do in Fairview, even in the summer, but the winters were worse. Then your friends mattered more than anything.

So that’s a little section of 12 Rules for Life. I can tell you what the rules are. It’s foreword was written by Norman Doidge.

He comments a little bit about the political turmoil that surrounded me over the last year, although the book itself is very apolitical with the exception of the chapter on skateboarding, where

I go into the ongoing, polarizing battle between I would say the radical left and everyone else. But other than that, it’s not a political book. So the table of contents includes rule one, stand up straight with your shoulders back.

That’s actually a story that centers on lobsters to a large degree. I have a proclivity for talking about lobsters.

Rule two, treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping. That’s something that people don’t do very well because they’re not very happy with themselves often.

Rule three, make friends with people who want the best for you. That’s the chapter I already read. I read the first part of it.

And it’s about trying to organize your life so that you’re surrounded by people who support you when you’re trying to do what’s right.

It’s very important. Rule four, compare yourself to who you were yesterday and not to who someone else is today.

Because if you’re comparing yourself to someone else, I mean, first of all, you don’t know very much about the life of the person you are comparing yourself to; you don’t know it across all of its dimensions.

And second, people are very different and so comparing yourself to someone else is kind of useful, I guess, when you’re young.

But as you get older and more singular and more particular, it becomes increasingly less useful. Better to compare yourself to a previous version of yourself and work for improvement in that way.

Rule five, do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them. That’s probably going to be the most controversial chapter, I would say.

It’s a chapter about discipline and love and respect. I guess that’s probably right. Rule six, set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.

Yeah. Well, that’s a rough chapter, man. I’m trying to explain the mindset behind people like the Columbine High School shooters.

And so it’s a harsh chapter. Rule seven, pursue what is meaningful and not what is expedient.

Expedient is what works in the short term, expedient is what’s easy. Meaningful, instead, is what sustains you through tragedy, let’s say.

Rule eight, tell the truth, or at least don’t lie. Yeah. Well, it’s not that easy to tell the truth because who knows about the truth?

But you can learn not to say things that you know to be false. And if you stop saying things that you know to be false, then your life will improve a lot.

It simplifies it and it puts you in alignment with reality. And you should be in alignment with reality because there’s a lot more of it than there is of you.

Rule nine, assume that the person you’re listening to might know something you don’t. That’s a good one because– and this is even true when you’re dealing with people that don’t like you because they may offer you criticisms that are valid– many that aren’t, too, of course because maybe they’re just trying to take you down a bit.

But if you get a criticism that’s valid and then you can fix that error, let’s say, that’ll stop you from running nose first into walls, and that’s generally a handy thing.

Rule 10, be precise in your speech. Yeah. Well, you have to be exacting in the way that you subscribe things and the way that you think because otherwise, you live in the fog and you won’t get what you should out of life or what you need out of life.

And by need, I mean what will sustain you so that you don’t become bitter and resentful. Rule 11, do not bother children when they’re skateboarding. So that chapter is about I would say our society’s hyper concern with safety and its fundamental antagonism to exploratory behavior, especially among boys.

Rule 12, pet a cat when you encounter one on the street. Yeah. Well, that’s about trying to orient yourself towards life so that even when you’re in the middle of a crisis or a tragedy, you can find bits and pieces of experience that are positive and sustaining so that you can stay positively oriented towards your own existence and towards existence itself.

So anyways, that’s the book. And it’s coming out January 23rd, although it’s available for preorder at Amazon.com or Amazon.ca and several other places.

I’ll put links in the video description. If you’re trying to figure out how to orient yourself in the midst of the chaos that constitutes life, then you might find some of the things that I wrote in 12 Rules for Life Helpful.

So I hope that that was interesting and goodbye for now.