The Power of Meaning | Crafting a Life That Matters By Emily Esfahani Smith
Before we get into this, let’s take this moment to applaud me on managing to finish reading a book in less than 2 months because that is an actual accomplishment for me. This book was nothing short of amazing, it was informative, eye-opening and what I love the most is that it makes you think after putting it down to sleep or to continue with your daily shenanigans.
3 months back, when I was casually strolling through one of my favorite book stores in town, I found this book, read a page or 2 on the aisle and decided that it has to come home with me. I don’t know how you feel about people highlighting notes or statements that stand out for them on the book but whenever I got a chance to read, I always had a pencil with me because almost every page contained important information that either enlightened me or triggered me.
I have never written a book review before or read that many of them to know how it should be written but here’s how we are going to do it… I will share moments from each chapter in the book that I found intriguing and then I will share my personal interpretations of each chapter and how I relate to them. Without further ado, let’s get reading…
The book revolves around the 4 pillars of meaning – belonging, purpose, storytelling and transcendence. The writer, through her thorough research, implied that these pillars are the main catalyst to finding meaning in our lives. Smith includes a number of real-life stories from people who found meaning through particular events that happened in their lives that triggered them to act and think differently about life.
- “…helping people overcome their demons is not the same thing as helping them live well.”
- “Indeed, social scientists have uncovered a sad irony – chasing happiness makes people unhappy.”
- “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.”
- “There is more to life than feeling happy.”
- “…there is a distinction between a happy life and a meaningful life.”
Without a doubt, everyone is chasing happiness… everyone is trying to be happy every single day. However, in this Introduction, I was presented with a whole new way of seeing life and realized that living a happy life does not make it any valuable. In my understanding, a happy life is usually an empty life because it is focused on taking more than giving. I understood this ‘taking’ as always wanting on something or someone to give you love, attention, affection and consuming goods excessively too. Yes, these factors do indeed make us happy but they don’t give us much of a reason to wake up tomorrow unlike a meaningful life would. After reading this chapter, I understood the importance of giving more… giving love, comfort, support, some kind of service and guidance to anyone who needs it.
THE MEANING CRISIS
- “The only truth we can absolutely know, Tolstoy believed, is that life ends with death and is punctuated by suffering and sorrow.”
- “…we can live our lives to the fullest by embracing the struggle with dignity.”
- “Everyone, Camus believed, needs some ‘thing,’ some project or goal, to which he chooses to dedicate his life, whether it’s a large boulder – or a small rose.”
- “…a phenomenon psychologists call the ‘IKEA effect.’ Putting together IKEA furniture makes people like it more.”
- “When we devote ourselves to difficult but worthwhile tasks – whether it means tending to a rose or pursuing a noble purpose – our lives feel more significant.”
- “…meaning arises from our relationships to others, having a mission tied to contributing to society, making sense of our experiences and who we are through narrative, and connecting to something bigger than the self.”
I believe so much in the idea of having some ‘thing’ to dedicate your life to. Something you would like to see grow, something you will devote your time and energy to. When I thought about what my ‘thing’ could be, I realized that this is it… this blog is it! From the time it was only an idea I was excited about it, then I started building it up, creating the website itself (IKEA effect) and receiving subscribers almost every day, I have published 100+ articles here but I am still excited about this blog. I just kept wanting to see it grow more and 3 years later, here I am, still investing all my time, energy and money into it without regrets. Not to be dramatic but this blog keeps me alive.
- “When other people think you matter and treat you like you matter, you believe you matter, too.”
- “Other research shows that rejected participants also rate their own lives as less meaningful.”
- “We can’t control whether someone will make a high quality connection with us, but we can all choose to initiate or reciprocate one… We can invite people to belong.”
- “…the basic principles of Buddhism – that life is full of suffering, which is caused by our endless cravings, and that we can be liberated from suffering by cultivating wisdom, living morally, and disciplining our minds through meditation.”
- “If we want to find meaning in our own lives, we have to begin by reaching out.”
I had such a love-hate feeling towards this chapter of Belonging and the mere reason why I hated it was because it made me realize that I have either lost my sense of belonging or never had it to begin with. By this I mean physical belonging and emotional. When we speak of belonging, we talk about having someone to relate to or someone who feels like ‘home’ or a physical place/community that you feel like you are part of. So, I loved this chapter because for one it was a perfect justification to why I cut ties with so many people in the last 3 years and two, it has got me thinking not only about my life but about others too and also about who I am… no, who I really really am and to be quite frank, I am still yet to discover that.
- “According to William Damon, a development psychologist at Stanford, purpose has two important dimensions. First, purpose is a ‘stable and far-reaching’ goal… Second, purpose involves a contribution to the world.”
- “People who fail to find purpose in their daily activities, however, tend to drift through life aimlessly.”
- “…But living your dream, as Coss would soon find out, is not necessarily the same thing as finding your purpose.”
- “…living purposefully requires self-reflection and self-knowledge.”
- “…Indeed, many great thinkers have argued that in order for individuals to live meaningful lives, they must cultivate the strengths, talents, and capacities that lie within them and use them for the benefit of others.”
I am always interested in the topic of Purpose and I once expressed my curoiousity on this blog through the article, ‘What are We Living For?’ Sometimes I am convinced that each of us has a purpose assigned to us from birth and we just need to find it or wait for it to find us, I guess. But then again, I also find it wild to believe that we weren’t just born to live or survive… nothing deep to it. This chapter did, in fact, pull out some major points that everyone needs to think deeply about, such as the suggestion that living your dream is not the same as finding your purpose. When you really think about it, it actually starts to make sense and your mind will start opening multiple channels of thoughts!
- “Our storytelling impulse emerges from the deep-seated need all humans share: the need to make sense of the world.”
- “Stories are particularly essential when it comes to defining our identity – understanding who we are and how we got that way.”
- “People who are driven to contribute to society and to future generations… all share a common pattern: they are more likely to tell redemptive stories about their lives, or stories that transition from bad to good… from suffering to salvation.”
- “We are all authors of our own stories and can choose to change the way we’re telling them.”
- “The psychologist Michele Crossley writes that mental illness is often the result of a person’s inability to tell a good story about his or her life.”
Of course, this was my favorite chapters of them all because I myself am a storyteller and it’s funny because it helped me make sense of why I am one. All my blogs, especially ones under ‘Articles’, are to some extent my redemption stories that I turn into motivational articles. I talk a lot about my personal suffering because I always know that someone out there is secretly relating to my story and if not, then they are enlightened. Storytelling for me is a way of letting go of what’s hurting you and making sure it doesn’t hurt you again. It’s also about owning up to your mistakes and pinpointing every lesson you picked up along the way. All in all, storytelling is growing.
- “A transcendent, or mystical, experience is one in which we feel that we have risen above the everyday world to experience a higher reality.”
- “When we feel deeply connected to other people and everything else that exists in the world. The result is that our anxieties about existence and death evaporate, and life finally seems, for a moment, to make sense – which leaves us with a sense of peace and well-being.”
- “Mindfulness meditation is meant to inspire a state of heightened awareness. Rather than repeating a mantra, as in other forms of meditation, the practitioner focuses on everything that is happening to him and around him, like the rising and falling of his breath or the subtle sensations of his body as he moves.”
- “…Ultimately, the individual is supposed to realize that he can step away from his thoughts, feelings, sensations, and experiences and observe them neutrally, rather than allowing them to define him.”
- “In Buddhism, mindfulness meditation is a path toward enlightenment, or the realization that the self is an illusion.”
Prior to reading this book, I didn’t know much about Transcendence. I mean, I knew about meditation but I started seeing it in a different light. I have practiced mediation several times and in all those times I end up getting distracted by personal thoughts which are usually ones I try to avoid. I have never successfully meditated to the point where I feel some sense of detachment to my physical body and to be honest, I sort of fear getting to that level.
- “After a traumatic experience, many people feel a strong drive to help those who have suffered as they have. Psychologists and psychiatrists sometimes call this drive ‘survivor mission’.”
- “When people who have suffered help others, they report less depression, anxiety, and anger, and more optimism, hope, and meaning in life.”
- “According to another researcher who has studied post-traumatic growth, ‘It is not the actual trauma that is causing the change. It is how people interpret what happens, how what they believe about themselves and life and the world gets shaken up, not the trauma itself, that forces people to experience growth.”
- “…people who that they had experienced a major trauma in their childhood but kept it a secret were significantly more likely to report health problems as adults than those who had spoken to others about the experience.”
- “As Stanford’s Kelly McGonigal writes, summarizing a large body of research: … Stress increases the risk of depression, except when people see a benefit in their struggles.”
- “As much as we might wish, none of us will be able to go through life without some kind of suffering. That’s why it’s crucial for us to learn to suffer well.”
The topic of Growth, for me, is linked to Storytelling. Growing is part of life but some people may choose to stay where they are because of comfort or being afraid of change or afraid of facing the truths about their life. I have grown through sharing stories about my life and also through seeing the positive side of everything that happens in my life even when things do not go as planned hence why I felt that this chapter spoke to me and furthermore helped me grow too.
Let’s wrap this up now, if you haven’t yet read this book, I hope this article has at least made you feel like you have through all the statements that I quoted and my personal interpretations of them. If there is any book you feel like changed your life and how you think, do tell me about it, I would like to hear about it and the lessons it taught you.
That’s it for now,