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 TED main stage 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.
“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
With a TED main stage talk listed as one of the top ten most popular of 2017, Smith is a keynote speaker who helps us think differently about the stories we tell ourselves and help us identify what makes life worth living.
The former managing editor of The New Criterion, Smith’s articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and other publications. Her articles for The Atlantic “There’s More to Life Than Being Happy” (about the Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl) and “Masters of Love” (about romance and marriage) have reached over 30 million readers. In 2017, The New York Times published her article about the novel Middlemarch called “You’ll Never Be Famous—And That’s OK.” Her essay for The New Criterion titled “Eleanor Clark’s Rome” sent her deep into the archives of Yale’s Beinecke Library to research the life and work of a nearly forgotten writer. And her profile for the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine of Joe Rago, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who tragically died at the age of 34, was shortlisted for a Folio magazine award in 2018.
Smith is a reporter for the Aspen Institute’s Weave project, an initiative founded by The New York Times’ David Brooks to address the problems of isolation, alienation, and division. At Weave, Smith finds and tells the stories of people who are working to rebuild the social fabric. Between 2013 and 2018, she served as an instructor in positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. 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.
“Your time with us was brief but powerful for our community. Everyone I've spoken with has been deeply appreciative of the evening, and your wise, humble, warm presence. I hope you continue to pursue this, as we really do need to hear what you have to share. I hope we can welcome you back here again.”The Jung Center
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.