THE POWER OF MEANING by Emily Esfahani Smith
Crafting a Life That Matters
Emily Esfahani Smith
- Imprint: Crown
- On sale: January 10, 2017
- Price: $28.00
- Pages: 304
- ISBN: 9780553419993
Praise for The Power of Meaning
“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
“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
Happiness is overrated. Our culture is obsessed with it, and we devote vast amounts of time, money, and brainpower to attaining it. Yet many of us feel alienated or aimless nonetheless. With suicide rates in the U.S. recently hitting a thirty-year high and depression trending upward for decades, it’s clear we’ve been chasing the wrong goal. In her compact, wise book, THE POWER OF MEANING: Crafting a Life That Matters (Crown; On-sale: January 10, 2017) Emily Esfahani Smith urges us to embrace an alternative: the pursuit of meaning.
Smith, who holds a master’s degree in positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, writes about psychology, culture, and relationships for The Atlantic, New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications. She made waves with her thought-provoking 2013 piece about meaning in The Atlantic, “There’s More to Life than Being Happy”—one of the most shared and read stories in the magazine’s history, attracting millions of readers. Because of the response to that piece and because of her passion for this subject, Smith now brings us THE POWER OF MEANING, in which she explores three crucial questions: What makes life worth living? How do people find meaning in their everyday lives? And how can we build cultures of meaning that allow us to thrive? The result is a rich, deeply researched book that invites readers to take stock of and reimagine their lives.
Using as a starting point her unique personal experience growing up in a Sufi meetinghouse in Montreal—where dervishes came over to her family’s home twice a week to meditate, drink Iranian tea, and tell stories from the lives of great Persian mystics—Smith takes the reader on an intellectually and aesthetically lush journey. She structures THE POWER OF MEANING around what she calls the four pillars of meaning—Belonging, Purpose, Storytelling, and Transcendence—and introduces us to people who find meaning by building up these pillars in their daily lives, among them a football star who discovers his purpose as a teacher after a shattering accident; a group of medieval enthusiasts who find belonging in their idiosyncratic community; a photographer who draws inspiration from her Hindu upbringing; and a group of college students who flock to an ancient monastic service in Seattle to experience a sacred moment together.
Synthesizing a kaleidoscopic array of sources—sociologists, psychologists, philosophers, neuroscientists, stargazers, as well as figures in literature and history (George Eliot, Aristotle, Virginia Woolf, and the Buddha, to name a few)—she dispels the myth that the search for meaning is some esoteric pursuit that involves traveling to distant monasteries or paging through dusty volumes of philosophy and theology. Rather, there are untapped sources of meaning all around us. And by integrating the four pillars in our lives, we can achieve a deeper satisfaction and equip ourselves to overcome the challenges life throws our way, from minor stressors to major traumas. In addition, Smith reveals the extraordinary benefits that come with meaning. People leading meaningful lives have better cardiovascular health, are less likely to suffer cognitive impairments, and, if they work or are students, are more engaged and productive. She also shows that research indicates chasing happiness, rather than meaning, often makes people unhappy.
THE POWER OF MEANING puts forward a new perspective on what constitutes the good life, and offers a tool kit for how to achieve it for ourselves, our families, and our communities. Inspiring and story-driven, THE POWER OF MEANING will strike a chord in anyone seeking a life of greater depth and significance.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Emily Esfahani Smith has written about culture, psychology, and relationships for The Atlantic, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TIME, Newsweek, Daily Beast, The New Criterion, and other publications. She is also 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 holds a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in positive psychology. Born in Zurich, Switzerland, she grew up in Montreal and lives in Washington, DC with her husband.
Twitter: @EmEsfahaniSmith • Facebook: facebook.com/authoremilyesfahanismith