Emily Esfahani Smith: There's more to life than being happy
In her book "The Power of Meaning," Emily Esfahani Smith rounds up the latest research -- and the stories of fascinating people she interviewed -- to argue that the search for meaning is far more fulfilling than the pursuit of personal happiness. Full bio
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was pursuing happiness.
to happiness was success,
that beautiful apartment.
they struggled with this, too.
to graduate school for positive psychology
changed my life.
can make people unhappy.
around the world,
a 30-year high in America.
gnawing away at people,
clinically depressed to feel it.
what predicts this despair
between being happy
as a state of comfort and ease,
Martin Seligman says
and serving something beyond yourself
is the more fulfilling path.
who have meaning in life,
interviewing hundreds of people
of pages of psychology,
four pillars of a meaningful life.
of these pillars in our lives.
from being in relationships
for who you are intrinsically
deliver a cheap form of belonging;
to cultivate belonging with others.
buys a newspaper
a transaction, though.
didn't have the right change,
and bought something he didn't need
like this without realizing it.
and barely acknowledge them.
when someone's talking to me.
invisible and unworthy.
you create a bond
is the most essential source of meaning,
is the second pillar: purpose.
is not the same thing
than about what you give.
her purpose is healing sick people.
is using your strengths to serve others.
that happens through work.
that issues like disengagement at work,
they're existential ones, too.
purpose at work,
something to live for,
is also about stepping beyond yourself,
the hustle and bustle of daily life,
to a higher reality.
transcendence came from seeing art.
and it happens through writing.
that I lose all sense of time and place.
experiences can change you.
at 200-feet-tall eucalyptus trees
they felt less self-centered,
of meaning, I've found,
of your life brings clarity.
how you became you.
that we're the authors of our stories
and retell your story,
who'd been paralyzed playing football.
to weave a different story.
my life was purposeless.
a pretty selfish guy.
I could be a better man."
changed Emeka's life.
calls this a "redemptive story,"
lives, he's found,
change their stories?
on your life thoughtfully,
and we all struggle.
can lead to new insights and wisdom,
by all of the pillars.
from our home in Montreal.
associated with the whirling dervishes
and share stories.
serving all of creation
even when people wronged you.
to reign in the ego.
of Sufism in my life,
that make life worth living.
had a real culture of meaning.
helped us all live more deeply.
that use the pillars
something to live and die for.
within our families and our institutions
we're constantly creating our lives,
I had with my father.
I graduated from college,
that should have killed him.
what was going through his mind
was needing to live
for my brother and me,
to fight for life.
for emergency surgery,
the last words he spoke on earth
he had a reason to live:
repeating our names --
why he survived.
something to hold on to.
ABOUT THE SPEAKEREmily Esfahani Smith - Journalist, author
In her book "The Power of Meaning," Emily Esfahani Smith rounds up the latest research -- and the stories of fascinating people she interviewed -- to argue that the search for meaning is far more fulfilling than the pursuit of personal happiness.
Why you should listen
Emily Esfahani Smith is the author of The Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed With Happiness. In her book and TED Talk, she argues that we're chasing the wrong goal -- a life of meaning, not happiness, should be our aim.
Our culture is obsessed with happiness. Even though we devote vast amounts of time and resources trying to be happier, many of us feel aimless and alienated nonetheless. With depression and loneliness trending upward for decades and the suicide rate rising around the world -- recently reaching a 30-year high in the United States -- it's clear that something is wrong. In recent years, social scientists have been trying to understand what exactly the problem is. What they've found is striking. What predicts the rising tide of despair sweeping across society is not a lack of happiness. It's a lack of something else -- a lack of having meaning in life. In fact, chasing and valuing happiness, the way our culture encourages us to do, can actually make people unhappy.
This set Smith on a journey to understand what constitutes a meaningful life. After extensive research and reporting, she came to see that there are four pillars of a meaningful life -- and she lays them out in her TED Talk. Ultimately, she discovered that the search for meaning is far more fulfilling than the pursuit of personal happiness -- and we all have the power to build more meaning in our lives.
Smith's articles and essays have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and The Atlantic. The former managing editor of The New Criterion, Smith is also an editor at the Stanford University's Hoover Institution, where she advises the Ben Franklin Circles project, a collaboration with the 92nd Street Y and Citizen University to build meaning in local communities.
Emily Esfahani Smith | Speaker | TED.com