Book Review: The Power of Meaning
The Power of Meaning
Crafting a Life That Matters
By Emily Esfahani Smith
I was bleary-eyed, wrestling to complete a feature story at the end of a long week, yet my copyeditor cheerfully helped me and emailed, “It was my pleasure to help. I want to meet the deadline, and I don’t want other people to be stressed.” And I thought, Wow! She has mastered the concept of meaning. And that, says author Emily Esfahani Smith, is the secret to everyday transcendence.
In her new book, The Power of Meaning, Smith argues that our society has become overzealous in our pursuit of the concept of happiness, and that the time, money, and personal effort dedicated to chasing it are wasted. What we need instead, she says, is to focus on meaning. Smith has a master’s degree in positive psychology and frequently writes for outlets such as the New York Times. She also grew up in an interesting way—her parents hosted a Sufi meetinghouse, where dervishes in prayer surrounded her. In her wide-ranging and well-researched book, she examines what everyone from Camus to Sisyphus, Will Durant to scientists, and even the Society for Creative Anachronism can teach us about the search for life’s meaning.
There are four components, she shares, to creating a meaningful life experience: belonging, purpose, storytelling, and transcendence. (You’ll notice that money, career advancement, a hot spouse, and a gorgeous physique aren’t among the criteria, despite our American cultural values.) Smith covers each concept of the four pillars, and inspires us on ways we can foster a sense of meaning on our own. Who among us hasn’t thought, Why am I here? A book like this, which helps provide answers, is rare indeed.