Most people dedicate their lives in the pursuit of happiness. On and off, we keep receiving different nuggets from different people on how to stay happy in life. But writer Emily Esfahani Smith finds that there is something even more valuable than being just happy. After years of research and study, she reveals in her TED talk the importance of leading a life with meaning.
Smith shows, through personal encounters as well as through statistics, how striving for happiness often leaves people “anxious and adrift”. She discloses that through her time in graduate school, she learnt that chasing happiness actually makes people unhappy. She started questioning herself and society, “Is there more to life than being happy? Whats the difference between being happy and having meaning in life? Our culture is obsessed with happiness, but I came to find that seeking meaning is the more fulfilling path,” she says. After years of intensive investigation, she arrived at a conclusion and discovered, what she calls, “the four pillars of a meaningful life”.
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“The first pillar is belonging. Belonging comes from being in relationships where you are valued for who you are intrinsically, and where you value others as well,” she explains. She goes on to illustrate how “we all reject people in small ways…without realising it”, and how this makes us feel “invisible and unworthy.” “For many people, belonging is the most essential source for learning… For others, the key to meaning is the second pillar: purpose,” Smith says.
Explaining what purpose means, she says, “Purpose is less about what you want, than about what you give… Purpose gives you something to live for, some ‘why’ that drives you forward.”
The third pillar is also about stepping beyond yourself, but in a different way: transcendence. “Transcendent states are those rare moments when you’re lifted above the hustle and bustle of daily life, your sense of self fades away and you feel connected to a higher reality.” She says the fourth pillar tends to surprise people, for it is, “storytelling — the story you tell yourself about yourself… It helps you understand how you became you.”
“Happiness comes and goes. But when life is really good, and when things are really bad, having meaning gives you something to hold on for,” she concludes.