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.


What will you sacrifice?

Newall Hunter is a 53-year-old communications contractor and IT engineer, who has climbed 7 of the world’s highest peaks and trekked to both poles. He gets honest about what it takes in this Red Bulletin magazine article. What will you give up to do what you really want?

“If it doesn’t feel right, you should turn around. You can come back and do it again. If you get it wrong, you won’t be coming back.”

It’s cool to post inspirational memes. And any of us can be the best pilots of old-rental aircraft or in our employers planes — but to do some feats you have to be willing to sacrifice more than a mocha latte a day.

This hits close

A new episode of the National Geographic Air Crash Investigation TV show, titled  Killer Attitude is hard for me to watch. It describes the crash of a perfectly good Northwest Airlink Jetstream 31 from MSP to Hibbing, MN, on 1 December 1993. I was flying out of MSP that night, same airplane type, same airline. I knew the captain, Marvin. I remember the grief counselors in the MSP crew room for two weeks after the crash.

 And one of the presenters, Craig Railsback, is a friend. We met 25 years ago, as young first officers in Jetstream 31 training at this airline.

So I’m biased. But also intimately knowledgable about this crash. The video is very accurate (with the exception of EFIS instruments in the J31); technically, historically, and in covering the human factors psychology. Marvin had a bad attitude, an extreme reaction to poor management and working conditions. It’s a powerful reminder that CRM training will save lives. Certainly worth your time to watch Craig and other airline experts explain what happened: