The Power of Meaning by Emily Esfahani Smith

Tuesday, July 18th 6:30pm

Americans have a lot to be happy about. Entertainment is always at the tip of our fingers. Companies tempt employees with junk food and video games. We have apps that enable us to order pizza or have our laundry picked up with the tap of a button. In short, our culture is obsessed with the good life. Yet, we’re more dissatisfied than ever. In The Power of Meaning, Emily Esfahani Smith argues that we’ve been chasing the wrong thing. It’s not happiness that makes life worth living—it’s meaning. Drawing on the latest cognitive science research, as well as insights from literature and philosophy, and her own prodigious reporting, Smith shows that by developing a “meaning mind-set,” we can all achieve a deeper satisfaction.

With a warm, assured voice that moves effortlessly from George Eliot and Aristotle to Monty Python and Louis C.K., Smith spells out the four pillars of the meaning mind-set: cultivating connections to others, working toward our life’s purpose, telling stories about our place in the world, and finding transcendence. Along the way, she visits a tight-knit fishing village in Tangier to investigate belonging, experiences awe while stargazing in West Texas, and attends a dinner where twentysomethings have gathered to share their experiences of profound loss. She introduces us to compelling seekers of meaning: the drug kingpin who found his purpose in helping people get fit; the artist who draws on her Hindu upbringing to create arresting and inspiring photographs; and a “winterkeeper” at Yellowstone who finds a sense of belonging even in isolation. And she shows us how we can lean on the pillars in difficult times, and how we might begin to build a culture of meaning in our families, our workplaces, and our communities.

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. She holds an MA from the University of Pennsylvania in applied positive psychology. A native of Zurich, she grew up in Montreal and lives in Michigan.