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The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters Hardcover – January 10, 2017
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“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
“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
About the Author
Emily Esfahani Smith writes about culture, psychology, and relationships. Her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, The Atlantic, and elsewhere. She is also a columnist for The New Criterion and an editor at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, where she manages the Ben Franklin Circles project, a collaboration with the 92nd Street Y and Citizen University to build community and purpose across the country. She studied philosophy at Dartmouth College and has a master’s in positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. She lives with her husband in Washington, DC.
Top Customer Reviews
In the introduction, the author shares her experiences with Sufism, her "parents ran a Sufi meeting house," then proceeds with the chapter that was the most fascinating to me as the parent of an introverted, deep thinking senior in high school, The Meaning Crisis, chock full of philosophical ideas and a discussion of suicide. One of the most disturbing facts in the book (and one I used in an article entitled Let's Unstigmatize Thoughts of Suicide) that comes from the CDC (p 22), "Each year, forty thousand Americans take their lives, and worldwide, that number is closer to a million." I'd imagined that the higher rate of suicide in developed than undeveloped countries had something to do with Maslow's Hierarchy, but Ms. Smith suggests the possibility that (p 23), "it is particularly distressing to be unhappy in a country where so many others are happy."
She follows this with four chapters corresponding to the pillars that support her message:
Belonging (p 49), "We all need to feel that we belong..."
Purpose (p 90), "a purpose-driven person is ultimately concerned...with making the world a better place."
Storytelling (p 104), "our storytelling impulse emerges from a deep-seated need all humans share: the need to make sense of the world."
Transcendence (p 133), "first, our sense of self washes away along with all, its petty concerns and desires. We then feel deeply connected to other people and everything else that exists in the world."
At that point in the book, I expect the conclusion or epilogue, but it's not to be. She includes a chapter entitled Growth, in which she puts forth (p 162), "The idea that we can grow to lead deeper and more meaningful lives through adversity." It supports Nietsche's contention (p 162), " “What does not kill me makes me stronger," with examples in support of it about persons who have gained strength from dealing with difficult circumstances, and a second additional chapter, Cultures of Meaning (p 192), "All across the country...people are using the pillars as a means to transform the institution in which we live and work, creating communities that value and build connections, celebrate purpose, provide opportunities for storytelling and leave space for mystery," which I think should have been the conclusion. Instead, Ms. Smith concludes with a discussion of death (p 217), "Contemplating death can actually help us, if we have the proper mindset, to lead more meaningful lives and to be at peace when our final moment on earth arrives," using research on those contemplating physician-assisted suicide to support the statement.
Best of the book: excellent research, anecdotes, interviews and other information in support of the idea that living a life in service of others, "Crafting a Life That Matters," helps bring meaning to humans and leads to happiness. Most chapters and arguments are very strong, like Chapters 1-5 and 7 (which seems like it should have been the Conclusion), the others, less so. Even though the story starts strong and finishes less so, it is definitely worth the read to remind us all that our society's materialistic, social media-heavy, happiness-seeking culture is the wrong path to happiness. On similar subjects: 10% Happier by Dan Harris, Coming Home by Dicken Bettinger and Natasha Swerdloff, and Listening is an Act of Love by Dave Isay.
CH 1: The Meaning Crisis
CH 2: Belonging
CH 3: Purpose
CH 4: Storytelling
CH 5: Transendence
CH 6: Growth
CH 7: Cultures of Meaning
Overall, if you have done a reasonable amount of reading on this topic, there is probably nothing new here. The theme of finding meaning (through belonging, purpose, storytelling, and transcendence) is well-covered in other books. I found no new insights regarding meaning, though everything in the book was accurate and well-presented. If you have not done much reading on positive psych, and don’t like science, then this is a very approachable and reliable source to get started with. If you do like a more thorough look, then I recommend Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, by Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener. Happiness is also well-written and easy to understand, but is a longer, more thorough book.
That's where meaning comes in. Author Emily Esfahani Smith, who has a master's degree in positive psychology from University of Pennsylvania, writes a thoughtful book on the topic of meaning. Smith cites some surprising statistics regarding happiness and meaning in the U.S.:
* 4 in 10 Americans say they have not discovered a satisfying life purpose
* 1/4 of Americans - about 100 million of us - do not have a strong sense of what makes their lives meaningful
* 1/3 of Americans 45 and older admit to being lonely
* Average American will move 11 times in their life
* 70% of employees feel not engaged at work - uninvolved, not enthusiastic, and uncommitted
* 4 in 10 in nursing homes say they have seen someone abused, and 40% of employees there say they have abused residents by swearing, yelling or witholding food
Smith finds there are four pillars of meaning and explores them each in a chapter with quotes, statistics and anecdotes. The four pillars supporting meaning, Smith says, are belonging, purpose, storytelling and transcendence. Smith has met some of the people mentioned in the book, and involved herself personally in experiences and groups devoted to purpose and meaning, so there are excellent first-hand accounts of them.
Smith writes about individuals and organizations who are focusing on meaning and purpose to help others. There's the The Future Project which organizes DreamCon events which help at risk teen-agers figure out their dreams and create steps to achieve them. The Taproot Foundation connects designers, marketers and other professionals with non-profits which can use their help. The Life is Good Foundation helps kids by training Playmakers or teachers, social workers and hospital workers on optimism to help the children in their care. There is a whole new "purpose economy" being created Smith says. A Nobel Prize-winning economist, Robert William Fogel, from the University of Chicago, believed we are becoming a post-materialist society, and experiencing a "fourth great awakening" which emphasizes concern for spiritual values such as " purpose, knowledge, and community over 'material' ones like money and consumer goods." p. 192
All of these are very good indicators for more meaning and purpose coming alive in our culture and individual lives. This is an inspiring narrative on meaning which will encourage you to consider how you want to use your strengths and values to create more meaning in your world through helping others through the avenues of belonging, purpose, storytelling and transcendence.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Smith uses the principles she describes to tell a compelling story of possible journeys to making—crafting--meaning in extraordinary circumstances...Read more