Another non-fiction book to close the week and a very inspiring one.
The Power of Meaning by Emily Esfahani Smith
There is a myth in our culture that to find meaning you have to travel to a distant monastery or wade through dusty volumes to figure out life’s great secret. The truth is, there are untapped sources of meaning all around us: right here, right now. Drawing on the latest research in positive psychology; on insights from George Eliot, Viktor Frankl, Aristotle, the Buddha and other great minds, Emily Esfahani Smith identifies four pillars upon which meaning rests: Belonging, Purpose, Storytelling and Transcendence.
She also explores how we can begin to build a culture of meaning into our families, our workplaces and our communities.
Inspiring and full of contemporary examples, The Power of Meaning will strike a profound chord in anyone seeking a richer, more satisfying life.
“Beautifully written and rigorously researched, The Power of Meaning speaks to the yearning we all share for a life of depth and significance. In a culture constantly shouting about happiness, this warm and wise book leads us down the path to what truly matters. Reading it is a life-transforming experience.”
—SUSAN CAIN, author of Quiet
“The analysis that opens the book, and that structures the whole, is simple and elegant… The insight that, in our daily lives, we need to think of others and to have goals that include caring for others or working for something other than our own prosperity and advancement is the most valuable message in the book.”
—WALL STREET JOURNAL
“What starts as a probing of the deepest personal wound opens up to a profound, universal exploration of our mortality.”
“An enlightening guide to discovering meaning in one’s life… Smith persuasively reshapes the reader’s understanding of what constitutes a well-lived life.”
“Thoughtful… Underscoring the power of connection, the author assures readers that finding meaning is not the result of ‘some great revelation’ but rather small gestures and humble acts.”
“A riveting read on the quest for the one thing that matters more than happiness. Emily Esfahani Smith reveals why we lose meaning in our lives and how to find it. Beautifully written, evidence-based, and inspiring, this is a book I’ve been awaiting for a very long time.”
—ADAM GRANT, author of Originals and Give and Take; professor at the Wharton School
“From sleep-deprived teens to overworked professionals, Americans are suffering from an epidemic of stress and exhaustion. It’s clear our definition of success is broken. As Emily Esfahani Smith shows, only by finding our purpose and opening ourselves to life’s mystery can we find true well-being. Combining cutting-edge research with storytelling, The Power of Meaning inspires us to zero in on what really matters.”
—ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, author of Thrive
“A wonderful, engaging writer… [Smith] offers clear, compelling, and above all useful advice for how to live with meaning and purpose.”
—ROD DREHER, The American Conservative
“This powerful, beautifully written book weaves together seamlessly cutting-edge psychological research, moving personal narratives and insights from great literature to make a convincing case that the key to a good life is finding or creating meaning.”
—BARRY SCHWARTZ, author of The Paradox of Choice; emeritus professor of psychology, Swarthmore College
“The Power of Meaning deftly tells the stories of people, contemporary and historical, who have made the quest for meaning the mission of their lives. This powerful yet elegant book will inspire you to live a life of significance.”
—DANIEL H. PINK, author of Drive
“A beautiful book, full of hope. While drawing on the best scientific evidence, it also stirs us with powerful narratives of living full of meaning”.
—LORD RICHARD LAYARD, Director, Well-Being Programme, Centre for Economic Performance
“The search for meaning just got a little easier, and a little more fun. To follow Emily Esfahani Smith in this great human quest is to undertake a rewarding journey with a sure-footed guide.”
—DARRIN M. MCMAHON, author of Happiness: A History; Mary Brinsmead Wheelock Professor of History, Dartmouth College
“All too often, we sleepwalk through life without examining it. The Power of Meaning shows us another path. How can we find purpose? What role does our work have in the search for meaning? This deeply researched—yet highly readable—book can help you answer those questions.”
—CHRIS GUILLEBEAU, author of Born for This and The $100 Startup
“A powerful invitation to live a life that is not only happy but filled with purpose, belonging, and transcendence. By combining scientific research and philosophical insights with moving accounts of ordinary people who have deeply meaningful lives, Smith addresses the most urgent questions of our existence in a delightful, masterful, and inspiring way.”
—EMMA SEPPÄLÄ, author of The Happiness Track; Science Director, Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism
“An intelligent page-turner… In a world that seems caught between pure hedonism and divisive sectarianism, the book mounts a timely challenge.”
About the Author
EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH writes about culture, relationships, and psychology for the Atlantic, New Criterion, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Daily Beast, and other publications. A native of Zurich, she grew up in Montreal and lives in Michigan. The author lives in Ann Arbor, MI.
Emily Esfahani Smith is the author of “THE POWER OF MEANING: Crafting a Life That Matters” (Crown). She writes about culture, relationships, and psychology. Her writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Time, The Atlantic, and other publications.
Emily is also a columnist for The New Criterion, as well as an editor at the Hoover Institution, where she manages the Ben Franklin Circles project, an initiative to build purpose and community throughout the nation.
Born in Zurich, Switzerland, Emily grew up in Montreal, Canada. She graduated from Dartmouth College and earned a master of applied positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania.
Thanks to NetGalley and to Penguin Random House UK, Ebury Publishing for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily chose to read and review.
I don’t read many inspirational books so I cannot share a deep analysis of how original the book might be or where it sits in regards to the topic. The book covers a variety of subjects, and it is classed under psychology and health, philosophy and self-help, and I agree it does touch on all those.
I’m a psychiatrist and I must admit I have never studied Positive Psychology as part of my degree but this book doesn’t require an in-depth knowledge of any of the disciplines to benefit from it.
The author opens the book by introducing herself, her background, and questioning the current focus on happiness. Is happiness sufficient to lead a satisfying life? She goes on to discuss many of the studies that show that having a sense of meaning can make a big difference to the outcomes of people at a time of crisis, be it a life-threatening illness or students going through exams, and grounds the readers in the subject. She uses one of the pillars she identifies as important to creating meaning, story-telling, to hook the readers into the topic of the book. If somebody came to you and asked you to give him (her) a reason not to kill him/herself, what would you say? That’s what happened to Will Durant and what set him off asking his colleagues and trying to understand what brings meaning to people’s lives. From there, and using positive psychology, Emily Esfahani Smith, defines the four pillars that bring meaning to people’s lives: belonging, purpose, story-telling and transcendence.
The author illustrates each one of these topics with individual stories that help make the points more accessible. We have a young man who was only interested in money, became a drug dealer, and when he went to prison discovered his lifestyle was literally killing him. There he changed his habits and ended up not only becoming fit but also helping others to become healthier. We have a woman who loves animals and finds her purpose in looking after the animals in the zoo, ensuring their lives can be interesting there too. I learned about dream directors who help young people find purpose and meaning; I read about projects that help people in the final stages of life to find a purpose, other projects that help individuals tell their stories and record their experiences, groups that bring people who’ve lost somebody together… The author achieves this and more, all the while providing sources for her findings and reminders of how the issues discussed relate to philosophers and historical figures past and current. We might discover belonging by joining a society that enacts battles or find transcendence walking in nature or attending a special service at church. Ultimately, this is not a prescriptive book, and the process of discovery of meaning is an individual one.
I loved the stories, which go from individual experiences to projects that have grown and become important to many people, and the theoretical reflections that underpin the concepts, which are clearly explained and will also encourage readers new to the topic to explore further. The author succeeds in preserving the unique voices of the people whose experiences she shares and her own writing is seamlessly and beautifully achieved. The book made me think and rethink life and its priorities and I suspect it will have a similar effect on many people.
A book on an important topic, written in an easily-accessible manner, illuminating and inspiring. Although I read it quickly for the review, this is a book that can be savoured and returned to as needed, and it will provide new discoveries and insights with every new reading.
A final note: Although the book appears quite long, the notes at the end occupy a 33% of the e-book (although they are easily accessible) and it does not feel like a long read.
Thanks to NetGalley, to Penguin Random House UK and to the author, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment and CLICK! And of course, remember to write a review if you read any books.