We all crave meaning and purpose in our lives, but many of us have difficulty finding it.
Often times without meaning, we can fall into a “nihilistic trap” of thinking nothing in our life really matters and we are just mindless machines going through the motions.
However according to the new book The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters by Emily Esfahani Smith, there are many potential sources to find meaning in our lives. This article will breakdown these into 5 different pillars: belonging, purpose, storytelling, transcendence and growth.
Interestingly, psychology research is beginning to discover that finding “meaning” is just as important as finding “happiness.”
In one study, participants were asked over a 10 day period to either do an activity that was related to “pleasure” (sleeping in, playing video games, going shopping, or eating sweets) or do an activity that was related to “virtue” (forgiving a friend, studying, thinking about one’s values, and helping or cheering another person).
Those who were placed in the “pleasure” condition reported an increase in positive emotions right away, but those positive emotions often faded quickly. Those who were placed in the “virtue” condition didn’t report as much positive emotion, but they did report more increased well-being in the long-term.
Aristotle was one of the first philosophers to draw a distinction between “hedonism” (life of pleasure) and “eudaimonia” (life of meaning):
“To Aristotle, eudaimonia is not a fleeting positive emotion. Rather, it is something you do. Leading a eudaimonic life, Aristotle argued, requires cultivating the best qualities within you both morally and intellectually and living up to your potential. It is an active life, a life in which you do your job and contribute to society, a life in which you are involved in your community, a life, above all, in which you realize your potential, rather than squander your talents.”
This is a good summary of what it means to live a meaningful life. It often requires being able to connect and contribute to something that is larger than ourselves. It’s more than just chasing pleasurable feelings.
The rest of this article will describe these 5 fundamental pillars behind a meaningful and purposeful life.