Published by Crown Publishing Group on January 10, 2017
Genres/Lists: Non-Fiction, Science/Technology/Psychology
Read synopsis on Goodreads
Buy the book: Amazon/Audible (this post includes affiliate links)
We live in a culture that is obsessed with happiness. I’m guilty of it, as I am sure you are. But what if happiness isn’t what we think it is? What if happiness hides itself in heartache? What if happiness isn’t enough? This last statement used to be a controversial, but in the recent past there has been a shift in the conversation from living a happy life to living a meaningful life. It is this quest for and importance of the meaning that is the topic of The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters (also known as The Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed with Happiness) by Emily Esfahani Smith.
The Power of Meaning takes society’s fixation on happiness and flips it on its head. Happiness, Smith argues, isn’t enough. After all, those of us who have cared for a sick family member or overcome insurmountable challenges wouldn’t call these happy times, but we would likely argue that they were meaningful and worth the effort.
The same is true for the people and groups Smith highlights in the book. From the man who turns a spinal cord injury into a reason to do good to the hodgepodge group of people who come together to share in a common experience, their quests for connectedness and meaning are undeniable. Finding purpose helps us relate to others, but it also helps us understand ourselves and propels us forward through this crazy thing we call life.In the quest for happiness, do we forgo the power of meaning? A review of @EmEsfahaniSmith's The Power of Meaning. Click To Tweet
Smith doesn’t stop with the anecdotal, though. The book is punctuated with scientific experiments and studies that demonstrate how happiness and meaning are related, but why meaning has a longer-lasting positive impact on both our physical and mental health. Countries whose populations report a low level of meaning have the highest suicide rates, even if they are wealthier and more “comfortable”. This holds true regardless of whether or not people reported themselves as happy. Meaning, as it turns out, is a better predictor of suicide than happiness, which runs counter to everything we’re taught about the importance of being happy.
If I had to pick, my favorite chapter was the one on meditation and how it can foster meaning and purpose through self-reflection. As a recently-turned-meditator myself (who often struggles with letting go of distractions), I now want nothing more than to experience a transcendental moment. As an elected official dedicated to serving others, I have a pretty good grasp on my life’s purpose, but like everyone else I struggle with whether it is enough and what I could be doing more/better. This book helped me realize that you don’t have to have it all figured out – just knowing your purpose for now is enough.
The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life that Matters is a quick read that packs a punch. Several of the stories are about average people, but reading about how they found meaning in their lives was eye-opening. The book is not prescriptive and won’t tell you how to find your purpose, but it may help you find meaning in the life you already live. What’s more, many of the scientific studies were new to me, which was a nice break from the monotony of books that cite the same studies over and over (such as Milgram’s). This one is a fresh take on the happiness craze and while not earth-shattering, it’s worth the read.
Recommended for: Readers looking to enhance their emotional lives.