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'Life-transforming' Susan Cain, author of Quiet
Searching for happiness is overrated, learn to find meaning instead
There is a persistent myth in our culture that in order to lead a fulfilling life we must pursue happiness at all times. In her groundbreaking work, Emily Esfahani Smith explains that it is actually the search for meaning that will bring fulfilment. She argues that meaning is all around us in vast untapped resources, and that the key is finding it in the right here, right now. Her inspiring TED Talk on the same topic has been viewed over a million times.
To explore how we can change our lives for the better, she draws on the latest research in psychology, sociology, philosophy and neuroscience, as well as insights from figures in literature and history such as George Eliot, Viktor Frankl, Aristotle and the Buddha. She shows us how cultivating connections to others, identifying and working toward a purpose, telling stories about our place in the world, and seeking out mystery, can immeasurably deepen our lives. To do this she visits remarkable people and places, such as a tight-knit fishing village in the Chesapeake Bay, a dinner where young people gather to share their experiences of profound loss, and a drug kingpin who finds his purpose in helping people get fit. She explores how we might begin to build a culture that leaves space for introspection and awe, cultivates a sense of community, and imbues our lives with meaning.
Journalist Smith, who has an M.A. in applied positive psychology, issues an enlightening guide to discovering meaning in one's life. She states that despite a culturally ingrained appreciation for the pursuit of happiness, Americans report being more miserable than ever. Paradoxically, pursuing happiness for its own sake often leads to unhappiness, whereas studies show that meaningful endeavors instill a deeper sense of well-being. Smith shares evocative stories of individuals who chose to focus on meaning, including famous authors such as Leo Tolstoy and Albert Camus; a zookeeper who spends much of her time with giraffes, kangaroos, and wallabies; and members of the Dinner Party, a national support group for young adults who have lost loved ones. Additionally, she explores the concept of growth through adversity, asking why some people grow after trauma while others do not. She also examines the obstacles that stand in the way of meaning, such as the fast pace of modern life. This survey concludes with the moving story of Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist who survived imprisonment in the Nazi concentration camp where most of his family died and went on to write Man's Search for Meaning. Smith persuasively reshapes the reader's understanding of what constitutes a well-lived life.