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  • Writer's pictureDavide Ferrari

Finding meaning through responsibility

Lately I've been asking myself what is driving my energies and motivation in doing what I do, study for the PhD, do research at the hospital, etc., and therefore what is taking me back when I do not.

I will follow Professor Jordan Peterson, who I admire, lessons to navigate this topic.


One of the most inflated sentences I always hear is "Do what makes you happy" and in general is not a bad advice. It is the most generic and easy thing to say to guide someone towards something positive. The point is ... who actually know what makes us happy? And is it really happiness that we are looking for? Isn't it something even more than happiness?

We know perfectly well what happiness is from a scientific standpoint and it seems to me that most of the time we refer to happiness as the feeling induced by dopamine, the neurochemical responsible for the feeling of reward. This highly addictive molecule is the same that makes us feeling good when we receive a like on our social media profiles or a text message from those we like. But it's also the same neurochemical that drive our addictive impulse to drugs, alcohol, and gambling. It is a very intense, yet rapid good feeling that do not necessarily makes us actually happy. Not on the long term at least.

Happiness is something that descend upon you. It comes upon you suddenly and you should be grateful for it. Professor Jordan B Peterson

I am not saying that every result of happiness is bad, the opposite, but what I'm trying to understand is something more than a short-term feeling; it is something that consistently and regularly can drive my life in a positive way.

You should pursue two things 1) who you could be because you are not who you could be yet 2) the highest good that you can conceive and articulate because life is short and perhaps you should do something worthwhile with it, something meaningful Professor Jordan B Peterson


Thinking about the things that I have done in my life, what I am doing now and what I could do in the future there is one specific activity that probably changed my perspective in this matter the most.

I have volunteered for 8 years as paramedic on emergency ambulances in Italy, from 20 to 28 years old and it was an activity I did in my spare time, while I was studying computer science at university, during the weekends, sometimes in the day, sometimes during the night. I will not dive too much in the details, but the most relevant aspect is that I spent my time doing something that very few people are doing, trying to bring help to people who were suffering for some reason and had illness and tragedies in their life in the very crucial moment in which that happened.

It is not an easy job, there is a lot of suffering in most situations, but at the same time it is the most rewarding thing I have ever done because knowing to renounce to go out with friends in the weekends because I was serving as paramedic was not suffering for me, was reason of pride and meaning.

Studying the words of Professor Peterson and thinking through my past life and the perspective of my future one, I am understanding now what I should pursue. Not happiness, on which I do not have any control, but meaning instead. I can have full control on meaning because it depends on what I decide to do and it is something I can feel consistently over time, theoretically without ending.

I had no problems waking up early at 5.30am to go on the morning shift, or to stay awake until 7am the next day when doing the night shift because I was finding meaning in what I was doing. When waking up to go to work, in general, we rarely feel this force pushing us; it can be a joyful day, it can be rewarding sometimes, but rarely we feel every single day that we are happy to go to do what we do.

That is the difference between doing something that makes us happy and something that gives us meaning.

Don't do what makes you happiness. Do what gives you meaning; it will eventually make you feel happy.


Studying the lessons of Prof. Peterson I understood and formalized in my mind what created the meaning I found during my activity as volunteer: responsibility. You not only give your time, but you also give your attention, your competences, and the support on which sick and troubled people entrust their health and their lives.

That is when you find meaning; when you know that other people need you for their happiness, their fulfillment, and even their very lives. And that is what I felt being a volunteer, and this is what I am looking for in my life and career.

Pick up responsibility, pick up the heaviest thing you can. We have been fed this unending diet of rights and freedom and there is something about that that is so pathologically wrong!People are starving for the antidote and the antidote is truth and responsibility!That is the secret of a meaningful life and without a meaningful life all you have is suffering, nihilism, despair and self-content.It is necessary to stand up and take responsibility. Professor Jordan B Peterson

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