THE POWER OF MEANING by Emily Esfahani Smith


Crafting a Life that Matters
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Common-sense suggestions on how to feel that life is worth living.

In her thoughtful but hardly groundbreaking debut book, journalist Smith draws on research from applied positive psychology, in which she holds a master’s degree, to offer advice about living a meaningful life. Applied positive psychology, the author explains, was founded by a research psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, who, noting a prevalence of depression, helplessness, and anxiety, called for an investigation into “what makes life fulfilling.” That investigation focused at first on happiness, resulting in thousands of studies; however, Smith asserts, “there is distinction between a happy life and a meaningful life.” Like many self-help books, this one uses empirical studies, abundant anecdotes, and wisdom gleaned from various writers and philosophers to support the idea that four “pillars” can give life meaning: belonging, purpose, storytelling, and transcendence. These pillars “are central to religious and spiritual systems, and they are the reason why they historically conferred (and continue to confer) meaning in people’s lives.” Smith found these pillars emphasized in her own childhood, growing up in a Sufi community whose members did not doubt the value of their own lives. But even without the bulwark of religion, individuals can build their own pillars. No matter what work one does, even menial jobs, “when we reframe our tasks as opportunities to help others, our lives and our work feel more significant.” Similarly, when we “feel understood, recognized, and affirmed by our friends, family members, and romantic partners,” that sense of belonging bestows meaning. Creating a narrative about our lives “allows us to understand our lives as coherent” and helps to define our identity; sharing those stories becomes an important way to connect with others. Awe when thinking about the vast universe or infinity can make us feel “connected to something massive and meaningful.” 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 good choice for self-help seekers but not likely for others.

Pub Date: Jan. 10th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-553-41999-3
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2016


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