Beyond happiness…

The opening lines of this TED talk caught my attention, in her TED talk There is more to life than being happy speaker Emily Esfahani Smith says –

Everyone said the path to happiness was success, so I searched for that ideal job, that perfect boyfriend, that beautiful apartment. But instead of ever feeling fulfilled, I felt anxious and adrift. And I wasn’t alone; my friends – they struggled with this, too.

Emily Esfahani Smith is a writer, she writes about the human experience — why we are the way we are, and how we can find meaning and grace in a world that’s full of suffering. She is the author of ‘The Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed With Happiness‘. In her book and this TED Talk, she argues that we’re chasing the wrong goal – a life of meaning, not happiness, should be our aim.

This is what Ms. Smith contemplates and goes on to elaborate in her TED talk  –

Is there more to life than being happy? And what’s the difference between being happy and having meaning in life? Many psychologists define happiness as a state of comfort and ease, feeling good in the moment. Meaning, though, is deeper. The renowned psychologist Martin Seligman says meaning comes from belonging to and serving something beyond yourself and from developing the best within you.

So this all made me wonder: How can we each live more meaningfully? To find out, I spent five years interviewing hundreds of people and reading through thousands of pages of psychology, neuroscience and philosophy. Bringing it all together, I found that there are what I call four pillars of a meaningful life. And we can each create lives of meaning by building some or all of these pillars in our lives.

Watch her talk here as she discusses these pillars of meaningful, fulfilling life.

The four pillars that she has outlined in her talk are – belonging (sense of belonging, as in relations), purpose (or calling), transcendence (I’d relate it to the state of flow) and narrative (the story you’d tell about yourself). I could connect these pillars to some of the articles I have written here and the links in the brackets would take you the related articles.

Emily Esfahani Smith talks about these pillars with examples from her own life as well as her friends’ lives. It is particularly touching how she finishes this talk with her father’s story where all these four pillars are evident –

My dad is a carpenter and a Sufi. It’s a humble life, but a good life. Lying there facing death, he had a reason to live: love. His sense of belonging within his family, his purpose as a dad, his transcendent meditation, repeating our names — these, he says, are the reasons why he survived. That’s the story he tells himself.

That’s the power of meaning. Happiness comes and goes. But when life is really good and when things are really bad, having meaning gives you something to hold on to.


The featured images:

The featured image that I have used here with gratitude is a free wallpaper from QuoteFancy and it features a quote by Martin Seligman and photo by Hugo Kerr.