Go beyond happy

Scientifically studying how humans get to be and stay happy is one of modern psychology’s success stories. Positive psychology, with its insights into pleasure and achievement, has benefited millions. But there should be  more to life than happy. And this new powerful book, The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters, by Emily Esfahani Smith (2017), is a gateway to getting there. Moving beyond a happy life to a meaningful life.

It’s a very readable story, which considering the serious ground it covers, citing loads of scientific studies as well as ‘heavy hitters’ like Buddha, Kant, Aristotle and Viktor Frankl, is high praise. The author has a masters degree in positive psychology and has written for major US publications like The Atlantic and The New York Times. It seems this is the book she really wanted to write, almost had to write. She quotes theologian Frederick Buechner as saying vocation is that powerful place “where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,” and it feels like working on this book was her powerful place. The writing is framed by her personal experiences and infused with examples from a wide literate world.

She posits four pillars of meaning: belonging, purpose, storytelling, and transcendence. These are chapters that organize the book, but aren’t oversold as checklists or mantras. In fact, the whole book understands that your meaning, and the way you’ll find it, is going to be different from mine. Overall it’s a balanced approach, not too academic or simple or close or distant or biased to one culture or religious solution. It doesn’t preach. It points, politely. With referenced real-world research findings. It got me to think, ponder a little. And maybe will lead me to be a better person, and then maybe feel good about leading a more meaningful life.

For pilots, it’s clear we should invest flying with more than just it’s a good time or it’s a job. The book quotes research by Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School as finding:

“Of all the events that can deeply engage people in their jobs, the single more important is making process in meaningful work.”

And there’s the story of John F. Kennedy meeting a NASA janitor in 1962. Asked by the president what he was doing, he replied:

“Helping put a man on the Moon.”

A serious reassessment of why we fly, how we approach the process, could lead to more engagement and a different world-view. Eventually could lead to what the book points to — a more profound, richer, more satisfying life. Good stuff!


The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters, by Emily Esfahani Smith (2017). I was provided an advance reader’s edition for review at no cost. These are still my independent opinions, I can’t be bought for $20.


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