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The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  3,732 ratings  ·  473 reviews
This wise, stirring book argues that the search for meaning can immeasurably deepen our lives and is far more fulfilling than the pursuit of personal happiness.

There is a myth in our culture that the search for meaning is some esoteric pursuit that you have to travel to a distant monastery or page through dusty volumes to figure out life s great secret. The truth is, there
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published January 10th 2017 by Crown Publishing Group (NY)
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Andriea Moss You should read How to Change Your Mind by Michael Polan. And no, it isn't about changing your mind about religion. It's about the biochemical experie…moreYou should read How to Change Your Mind by Michael Polan. And no, it isn't about changing your mind about religion. It's about the biochemical experience of transendence. (less)

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Clif Hostetler
Nov 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book provides a scattered collection of findings from population studies and various psychological and sociological studies related to human perceptions of meaning, fulfillment, happiness, and belongingness. These results of studies are intermingled with various examples of actions or training some people have used to move toward obtaining a sense of meaning in their lives.

One point the book makes early on is that happiness and meaning are not the same thing. As a matter of fact it appears
This is one of those books that can change the way you look at life and change your life if you let it. Ever wonder why some of the richest/first world countries are rated the "happiest" countries but have the highest suicide rates as compared to some of the poorest/third world countries? Meaning. People in poorer countries see their lives as more meaningful even if they have to work harder and suffer more. Having focus on other people versus yourself (like in individualistic -centered societies ...more
Dec 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Nothing revolutionary here, but, then, as the author reminds us with an early reference to The Epic of Gilgamesh, people have been writing about what makes for a meaningful life for thousands of years. Still, Smith does do a really nice job of pulling together ideas, poetry, and research on the topic from around the world and through history, organizing her book around the idea of “four pillars of meaning: belonging, purpose, storytelling, and transcendence.” This structure allows for coherence ...more
Nov 10, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Not bad, but unnecessary. The best parts are book reports of better stuff. Much of the rest is composed of anecdotes and descriptions of small psych experiments. A common theme throughout is people hitting bottom (jail, end of life, drugs, etc.) and then deciding to maybe look for a different path. For people who aren't already at bottom, this isn't a very productive roadmap.

Most people I think would be better served reading the original wisdom books she refers to:
Man's Search for Meaning; The
Jan 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
I won a copy of this from a goodreads giveaway and I'm glad I did. I suspected that this book might be too cheesy for me, being a hater of self-help books and all, but I smelled no cheese. Smith uses philosophy, literature and anecdotes from individual lives to show the importance of finding meaning in having a healthy and fulfilling life. Meaning is differentiated from happiness. The rich tend to be happier, but also are more prone to killing themselves, while the unhappy poor when they find me ...more
Apr 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There is a subtle difference between the question “What is the meaning of life?” and “What is the meaning of my life?” The latter of which has caused me great anguish in recent years. While this book didn’t give me a solution, it did give me tools to help find the answer.

Up until the 18th century, students looked to religion for a greater purpose in life, but then teachers started using philosophy and classic literature to convey meaning. By the 20th century, professors decided that meaning was
Dec 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
The book is good, but not revolutionary. It’s a new way to look at some of the same old social science research. The spin is that we should be looking for meaning and not happiness. I’m totally on board with that and she does a great job addressing the difference. I did wish for something more or different when I picked it up. She started the book with some philosophy (Camus and Tolstoy on meaning), but then dropped it off and didn’t go back. Also, she said at the beginning that she’s a Sufi and ...more
Leland Beaumont
Oct 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
For many years a good friend of mine hung a sign in his office advising him to find: “Something, to do, someone to love, and something to hope for.” Perhaps we all seek meaning in our lives; “for as long as human beings have existed, they have yearned to know what makes life worth living.”

As more people realize that religious dogma is not the path to meaningful lives we may be cast adrift, or we may seek effective paths toward meaning. Author Emily Esfahani Smith provides useful insights as we s
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
People are often in search of happiness, but Emily Esfahani Smith argues that people would do well to search for meaning instead. Smith looks closely at the research that has been done on four areas of finding meaning: relationships to others, contributing to society, making sense of experiences, and connecting to something bigger than one's self. The book is, happily, both readable and based on research, and that doesn't often happen. ...more
Mar 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was amazing, brilliant, and totally the perfect book at the perfect time. I will be passing this on to everyone in existence and reading it myself often.
Sarah Brodsky
Jan 23, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: netgalley, 2017
In Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, Martin Seligman recalls visiting his father in a nursing home and witnessing his father’s despair after being disabled by a series of strokes. Then as a student and later a professor of psychology, Seligman saw helplessness again and again, in lab animals that had been inadvertently conditioned not to attempt control over their environment, and in depressed people who reported feeling empty. Seligman went on to prove that it was possib ...more
Marla (Not Maria)
The Power of Meaning makes the reader stop and question what is the meaning of your life. What gives it purpose, why are you here. I'm a cancer survivor and this book brought back memories for me of when I was going through treatment and asking myself why me. What is the meaning for me to go through this scary time. I found my purpose was to tell my story about surviving cancer to whoever wanted to listen so that maybe I can help ease any doubts and worries they might have when they are faced wi ...more
Cristine Mermaid
Jun 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: self-help, sociology
I loved this book. A neighbor was talking about it and it intrigued me enough that I picked it up the next day. The focus on meaning appealed to me because I have always felt that the pursuit of happiness wasn't for me because simply chasing "happy" sounds like a life of frivolousness and ignoring the dark side which seemed an incredible priviledge and selfish (to me, anyway, a former friend and I have had many an argument about this). But to chase meaning, to find purpose, that was what I wante ...more
Jan 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley-books
4.5 stars. I picked up this book intending to dip in and out as the mood fit, however, I ended up reading it from start to finish rather quickly. Emily Esfahani Smith begins with the assertion that studies have shown that fleetingness and fickleness of happiness has very little to do with depressed or suicidal thoughts, but rather is greatly effected by whether one's life is perceived to have meaning. She then provides chapters on different interpretations of meaning and snippets from people who ...more
Feb 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Really good. The intro didn't grab me right off, and some chapters had a little more to say than others, but overall I'd say this is one of the best books of this kind that I've read. Smith's four "pillars" of meaning are: Belonging (our relationship to others), Purpose (a feeling of contributing to society), Storytelling (making sense of our place in the world through a narrative), and Transcendence (connecting to something bigger than the self). Each chapter expands on those ideas as well as l ...more
Emma Sea
Aug 27, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: auckland-library
This was fine, just lighter and fluffier than I was expecting.
Feb 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Summary: Explores the importance of meaning in one's life, four pillars upon which meaning rests, and how we might cultivate cultures of meaning.

The question of what a life well-lived is one that philosophers and baristas, young and old alike have considered from the earliest records we have of human musings. Emily Esfahani Smith introduces us to the importance of this in describing the beauty of the Sufi community gatherings in which she grew up and the findings of positive psychologists Martin
Jan 12, 2017 rated it it was ok
Everything here is a no-brainer. What the author did differently was kick it off by adding her own faith and wrapping it with stories and quoting other's research. As an OD professional, this info is all old hat to me and I thought the blah formatting of the book could have been improved (bolding/calling out key concepts, pull quotes, etc. would've really helped in reading this lengthy text) to help bring home the key concepts in the e-book sampler I received. Additionally, I thought the book ne ...more
Nov 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: unfinished
I sooo wanted this to be an enlightening read. I did not find it enlightening; I found it to be rather shallow.. The author gathered various anecdotes that illustrate each of her categories of meaning, but ironically, she never seems to make those anecdotes translate into *meaningful* commentary. She has generated a lot of footnotes, though, so that’s almost the same thing, right? Hmmm...
Oct 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my new favorite books. I've read a lot of psychology/business/self-help books over the years, and usually I walk away with a better understanding and a new framework that is helpful. Usually the frameworks are small evaluations of how I speak with others, how I view leadership, or how to delegate. The Power of Meaning had me evaluating my life plans and trajectory by continually asking myself, "What is the good hard thing that I can do now that will have me look back on life with ...more
Karel Baloun
Apr 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Emily starts with an effective, deep philosophical review of human meaning, because this important topic has been considered for millennia. Just only this beginning, alone, makes the book highly valuable. I will return to re-read this from decade to decade.

Meaning indeed comes from: belonging, purpose, storytelling, and transcendence. Per additional chapters on culture and growth are also valuable. Her powerful conclusion poles in the master, Victor Frankel, and amazes me as she both validates h
Gary Moreau
Sep 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is the conundrum that has haunted us from the beginning of time: What is the meaning of life? To Emily—her writing and personality seem to invite familiarity—it all turns on the four pillars of meaning: belonging, purpose, storytelling, and transcendence.

Emily gave a TED talk in April, 2017, entitled, “There is more to life than being happy,” and if you haven’t watched it, I highly recommend it. It is insightful, concise, engaging, and delivered with humility and authenticity. My first though
Saarah Niña
Read from 10/07/17 to 13/07/17


In this book Emily Eshfani Smith explores the meaning of life. She writes with a discursive prose, and discusses the different themes which contribute towards a more meaningful, more fulfilled life. She dismisses the common idea that only happiness is significant, rather she introduces the idea that a deeper life comes from more than instant gratification or even just long term happiness. It comes from meaning. She delivers the core message that there are
Sep 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Maybe it's implied by the topic of the book being a "meaningful" life but I would give this a big content warning for some pretty intense discussions of suicide. In general though the book felt warm and ... kind(?). Some concepts I knew from experience (like the service mindset making a retail job feel meaningful and engaging), some things where new (the "lost self" was an interesting idea to me). I loved the stories of people who have been to space and how it changed their perspective. At the s ...more
Joanna Taylor Stone
Dec 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I sought this book specifically because my favorite audiobook narrator, Mozhan Marno, read it. I thought it would be fluff, but it was beautiful and profound. Thoughtful and well researched, it touched on the ways that we look for purpose and meaning in our lives, and also the consequences when that need is not met. I just devoured it.

And also, listen to everything Mozhan Marno reads, ok?
Wendy Jackson
More than 3.5, not quite a 4. Smith's breakdown of four pillars of meaning made sense to me - belonging, purpose, storytelling, and transcendence. The chapters on each are a good mix of inspiring stories and hard science (the endnotes are very thorough). The content also lines up well with Buddhism / meditation-based books I read. Not life-changing, but definitely excellent food for thought. ...more
Oct 10, 2018 rated it did not like it
I barely got to the second page without feeling like I was reading a textbook for my philosophy class or something. I am a little disappointed because I was not expecting a textbook. I was expecting a profound story and experience for “crafting a life that matters.” Just to be clear, I did not finish this, I merely put it in my DNF (did not finish) bookshelf.
Sep 16, 2016 marked it as physical_to-read_stack
I received a copy free from the publisher through Goodreads Firstreads.
Sep 18, 2017 rated it did not like it
Couldn't get through it ...more
Claudia Brown
Feb 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
As I finished this book, I couldn't help but wipe the tears from my face. Interestingly enough, this exact week where this assignment was due for my class, it was the week I was in need to hear this message personally.

Books are always experiences for me, sometimes of isolation from stress, of excitement, of entertainment. This book was a journey of self-reflection and understanding, of the person I find myself being and the person I would like to become. The person I want to find again!

2019 was
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Shadows Book Club: Self-Care 1 4 Mar 19, 2018 05:12PM  

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Emily Esfahani Smith is a journalist and the author of The Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed With Happiness (Crown). In this book, Smith argues that the unending pursuit of happiness has distracted us from what really matters—the search for meaning in life. Smith draws on psychology, philosophy and literature—as well as her own reporting—to write about the human experience. ...more

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