I reread the book The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters by Emily Esfahani Smith, searching for a deeper meaning than I got on the first reading. I did find some things I liked, but the final thoughts in the conclusion didn’t seem to get past the Beatles song – “All you need is love, love is all you need.” Sigmund Freud’s idea of life meaning being based on “love and work” is okay, and Victor Frankl’s image of his wife, while in a Nazi concentration camp, pulled him through those horrible times. But the suggestion to develop a loving attitude seems like looking for happiness, which isn’t gotten by seeking it directly. It’s a result of doing the things that get you nearer to your purposeful goal.
I still didn’t find any new underlying theory of what makes human life meaningful, but only stories of examples of what made individual people’s lives meaningful. Just saying that giving love makes life purposeful and thus meaningful isn’t giving any information that hasn’t been known for thousands of years.
For me the book has some special meaning because I was there at some of the first Society for Creative Anachronism events in Berkeley, which are referenced at length in the chapter on belonging. Also, I have stood for hours looking at the Tyrannosaurus rex (p. 134) skeleton in the Life Science building on Cal campus. I was trying to figure out why its skeleton was configured the way it was. Why was its breast-bone so big? Was it to help hold up its massive weight when sleeping? And another personal special point for me was the wiki Adverse Childhood Experience test (ACE test), which wasn’t referenced in the text (p. 176) or the index. That reference is important because it is a major study at the core of human development. I cover that in my post, How to improve your ACE test score, which covers both adverse childhood experiences and positive ones too.
What bothers me about the whole subject of self-help is that it is focused on people with poor to horrible childhoods and adulthoods, and it is trying to bring these unfortunate people up to what they think of as normal. What I am interested in is bringing people with very good childhoods and adulthoods up to more mature ways of living.
This is a wonderful book for the general reader, and will be encouraging for some, and it touches on existential philosophy and stoic philosophy too, but it doesn’t go deeply enough into them to help a person solve their problems.
There is personal power to be gained by finding your meaning, and this book points the way, but it doesn’t take you there.