Miller’s debut nonfiction book asks a question that’s easy for readers to lose sight of amidst the hurdles of daily living: am I living a meaningful life?
This invigorating work blends snippets of memoir and meditation with a down-to-earth, though by no means reductive, psychology of personal change. The author lays out a comprehensive scheme of human development in seven stages (“Needs and Wants,” “Social Role,” “Control,” “Compassion,” “Self-Development,” “Dance” and “Unity”). Each phase draws on particular motivations, inclinations and preoccupations, and represents a specific mode of existing among other people. However, Miller’s theory is hardly abstract. Instead, it presents concrete examples of people who, for various reasons, are stuck at certain stages, and its model of a Socratic good life offers readers a realistic, balanced and reasonable approach to judging one’s needs and desires. The author pays close attention to the concepts of meaning and meaningfulness; specifically, he looks at how the factors that contribute to a meaningful life may change at different points in one’s life. But although he grounds his model of human psychology and behavior in plain language and personal experience, he also makes convincing correlations with other psychological and religious theories of human development. Drawing on a rich palette of sources, ranging from Zen aphorisms to contemporary cognitive science, he attempts to show how his stages explain, and are explained by, a plurality of other traditions. For example, he says that the seven life phases in this book correspond with the seven levels of chakras in Indian Kundalini philosophy. Although the book is perhaps more ambitious than it is precise, it’s daring and provocative nonetheless, as it seeks to remind readers that life is “a potentially joyous journey” if one makes thoughtful choices.
An intellectual but nontechnical concept of human psychological development that offers useful prescriptions for self-improvement.