What We're Reading: The Power of Meaning by Emily Esfahani Smith


We have a lot to be happy about. And yet, we're more dissatisfied than ever. In The Power of Meaning, Emily Esfahani Smith argues that we've been chasing the wrong thing. It's not happiness that makes life worth living—it's meaning.

Drawing on the latest cognitive science research, as well as insights from literature and philosophy and her own prodigious reporting, Smith shows that by developing a "meaning mindset," we can all achieve a deeper satisfaction.

With a warm, assured voice that moves effortlessly from George Eliot and Aristotle to Monty Python and Louis C.K., Smith spells out the four pillars of the meaning mindset: cultivating connections to others, working toward our life's purpose, telling stories about our place in the world, and finding transcendence. And she shows us how we can lean on the pillars in difficult times, and how we might begin to build a culture of meaning in our families, our workplaces, and our communities.

Stirring, inspiring, and story-driven, The Power of Meaning will strike a profound chord in anyone seeking more in life. — Indigo Books

What Our Book Club Members Are Saying:

When asked, “how do you find meaning in your life?”

The first member to share his response reflected on his father, who worked a low-paying job, and did so with a positive attitude and tirelessly.  He never understood what motivated his father, and why he didn’t strive for a better job, more money.  He came to realize that he found meaning in providing for his family, and this member mentioned that he wonders if he will have a family someday that will give him meaning as well.

This same inmate also took the opportunity to share with us that he felt the book club provides meaning to each of them; it makes them feel human and worthwhile that people “from the outside” care enough to spend time with them, and show up each month.  Other members agreed with him and thanked the volunteers for being there.

A member who was very enthusiastic about this book, and offered much input, said he appreciated it because he is aiming to become a counsellor to help other people, as his life has been graced by someone who helped him.  This book gave him several insights and inspiration in that regard.  He also reflected that his past has defined who he is, and the purpose he feels driven towards (helping others) is due to the sum of his experiences, including his time in prison.

A long-time member was succinct yet profound in his reaction to the book and how he found meaning.  He stated that for most of his life he didn’t feel like he had a life, but he has come to realize that he can do the things he wants to do.  He is always helpful to our group, and is well-known for his support and generosity to others as well.

One of the more reserved members who rarely offers input shared a very touching reflection, saying that he’s found meaning by realizing what is important to him since he has been incarcerated.  Mainly his family, and friends.  He felt he took these things for granted when they were available to him, but once he was not able to maintain these relationships, it became apparent just how important they were.  He said something as simple as working on the car in the garage with his neighbour was a thing that he never really thought about until he was in prison, and could no longer have that experience.  Interestingly, his reflections came from a place of acceptance and regret rather than feeling angry like his situation was unfair.

There were other general insights to the book and what it evoked, mainly the notion that we are each in control of our own attitudes and actions, and how we interact with and treat others is of utmost importance.