In her book "The Power of Meaning," Emily Esfahani Smith rounds up the latest research — and the stories of fascinating people she interviewed — to argue that the search for meaning is far more fulfilling than the pursuit of personal happiness.

Why you should listen

Emily Esfahani Smith is the author of The Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed With Happiness. In her book and TED Talk, she argues that we're chasing the wrong goal -- a life of meaning, not happiness, should be our aim.

Our culture is obsessed with happiness. Even though we devote vast amounts of time and resources trying to be happier, many of us feel aimless and alienated nonetheless. With depression and loneliness trending upward for decades and the suicide rate rising around the world -- recently reaching a 30-year high in the United States -- it's clear that something is wrong. In recent years, social scientists have been trying to understand what exactly the problem is. What they've found is striking. What predicts the rising tide of despair sweeping across society is not a lack of happiness. It's a lack of something else -- a lack of having meaning in life. In fact, chasing and valuing happiness, the way our culture encourages us to do, can actually make people unhappy.

For Smith, realizing that a meaningful life and a happy life are different was eye-opening. It set her on a journey to understand what constitutes a meaningful life. After extensive research and reporting, she came to see that there are four pillars of a meaningful life -- and she lays them out in this inspiring talk. Ultimately, she discovered that the search for meaning is far more fulfilling than the pursuit of personal happiness -- and we all have the power to build more meaning in our lives.

Smith draws on psychology, philosophy and literature -- as well as her own reporting -- to write about the human experience. Her articles "There's More to Life than Being Happy" and "Masters of Love," originally published in The Atlantic, have received more than 30 million hits online. Her writing has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and The New Criterion. She is an instructor in positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania as well as an editor at the Stanford University's Hoover Institution, where she advises the Ben Franklin Circles project, a collaboration with the 92nd Street Y and Citizen University to build meaning in local communities.

Emily Esfahani Smith’s TED talk

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