The Power of Meaning
Crafting a Life That Matters
Meaning, not happiness, is the key to a good life. That’s the vital message at the core of Emily Esfahani Smith’s book, The Power of Meaning, which outlines four pillars essential to living a life that matters: belonging, purpose, transcendence, and storytelling. From the TED2017 mainstage to her viral Atlantic article “There’s More to Life Than Being Happy,” Smith helps us develop genuine cultures of meaning—in life, and at work.
“Combining cutting-edge research with storytelling, The Power of Meaning inspires us to zero in on what really matters.”— Arianna Huffington
We’re all striving for happiness—but our culture’s obsession with instant gratification is only making us miserable. After over a hundred interviews, as well as years of research into positive psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, and literature, Emily Esfahani Smith has discovered a more enriching way to live a good life: and that’s through the search for meaning. In her compelling new book The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters, Smith offers methods for individuals to let go of unreasonable, unattainable standards of happiness, overcome adversity, and pursue goals that reward over the long haul. And for organizations, it means embedding a sense of purpose into corporate culture—making beliefs and values align for personal wellbeing as well as the bottom line.
Smith’s articles in The Atlantic have been read over 30 million times, and her writing on culture and psychology—drawing on neuroscience, philosophy, and literature—have also appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, TIME, and other publications. Fresh from the TED 2017 mainstage, Smith’s talks help us think differently about the stories we tell ourselves and help us identify what makes life worth living.
Smith is an instructor in positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also a columnist for The New Criterion, as well as an editor at the 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 meaning in local communities. Born in Zurich, Switzerland, Smith grew up in Montreal, Canada. She graduated from Dartmouth College and earned a masters of applied positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania.
To Emily Esfahani Smith, there’s more to life than happiness. But we won’t find it through chasing esoteric secrets, reading the latest self-help book, or following some cultural standard for ‘the good life.’ In fact, our culture’s relentless pursuit of status, wealth, and ‘happiness’ can actually have the opposite effect: loneliness, dissatisfaction, regret. Instead, says Smith, the key to living a richer, more fulfilling life is through the search for meaning.
In this inspiring keynote, Smith presents the latest in psychology and neuroscience (as well as the wisdom of our greatest philosophers) to help us live more satisfying lives. She unpacks what she calls the “four pillars of meaning”—belonging, purpose, storytelling, and transcendence—and how we can each find meaning by building some or all of these pillars in our lives and in our communities. Together, these pillars help us give back, forge deep relationships, set purposeful goals, and make sense of who we are and our place in the world.
Ultimately, a meaningful life lies in connecting and contributing to ideas beyond yourself—whether it’s your family, your job, or humanity at large. Our most meaningful pursuits—from starting a business to nurturing our relationships to mastering a musical instrument—require hard work, sacrifice, and long-term vision. We don’t necessarily do them to be happy; we do them because they’re meaningful. For individuals seeking something more, or for institutions looking to build a culture of meaning at work or school, Smith’s talk gives us the tool we need to build resiliency, gain a broader perspective, and truly deepen our lives.