CM 077: Emily Esfahani Smith on Creating a Meaningful Life

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Blog Post - Emily and MeaningResearch shows that happiness is elusive. So how can we achieve a deeper, longer lasting sense of joy?

Emily Esfahani Smith, author of the book, The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life that Matters, studies the powerful distinction between meaning and happiness and why it matters. An editor at the Hoover Institution, a policy think tank at Stanford University, and a columnist for The New Criterion, her writing  has also been featured in the Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and the New York Times.

Her research reveals four pillars, or themes, associated with meaning. The stronger these pillars are in our lives, the more meaningful our lives will be.

In this interview, we talk about:

  • Why we should strive for meaning over happiness
  • How meaning helps us think longer term
  • The fact that meaning helps us connect to something larger than ourselves
  • The four themes of meaning — belonging, purpose, storytelling, and transcendence
  • Why belonging is the most important pillar of meaning
  • How belonging helps us see how we matter, helps us feel valued, respected, cared for
  • Why purpose is all about what we can contribute to others
  • How the story we tell about our lives is a way of crafting our identities
  • How transcendence helps us connect to something larger than ourselves
  • How we can help each other have a healthy sense of belonging at work through the social cues that we send, like making eye contact and smiling
  • How purpose and belonging overlap when we become more focused on service
  • Why we need to act on our talents and strengths to recognize our purpose
  • Narrative identity arises from the stories we tell about our lives and our experiences
  • We have agency in shaping the story of our lives in ways that help us move forward
  • Paying attention to our current future selves – who we want to become
  • How astronauts rethink their values and their ambitions as a result awe experiences
  • What growing up in a Sufi household taught Emily about meaning vs happiness

Links to Topics Mentioned in this Podcast


The New Criterion

The Hoover Institution

Pursuing Pleasure or Virtue by Veronika Huta and Richard M. Ryan

Shawn Achor

The Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan

Carlos Eire

Jeffrey S. Ashby



Whirling Dervish

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Thank you to Emmy-award-winning Creative Director Vanida Vae for designing the Curious Minds logo, and thank you to Rob Mancabelli for all of his production expertise!



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