The Power of Meaning was a sweet book, a broad sweep through a delightful range of stories, all bound together through the idea of meaning. Smith opens with a background anecdote that asserts her deep experience in the topic, and is itself an illuminating view into a culture that often remains unnoticed. While the front flyleaf maintains that finding meaning is not relegated to those of us who have the means to crisscross the globe or hole up in a monastery for years, one common thread that ties many, if not most, of them together, is the experience of a singular change. A Vietnam veteran gets into a drunk driving accident, swears off the bottle, and finds meaning in creating a chain of sober coffeeshops catering to veterans with a similar experience. A broad example of this is through a discussion of the “Overview Effect,” a shift in mindset that occurs in many astronauts after their time in space. Many of them return to earth with a renewed sense of purpose, setting up new services or projects to manifest change in the world, such as providing potable water to far-flung reaches of Africa.
I’d recommend this book to anyone who might be struggling with some sense of ennui. It takes the reader very gently through anecdotes and studies that, strung together, create a beautiful tapestry that could well break through the feeling. It would be a wonderful book for anyone else as well; it is quite well put-together and can be read through in a few sittings, and there are quite a few insights to be discovered regardless of how much meaning you feel you’ve already found in life. Anyone can broaden their worldview by reading this book, and gain some interesting perspectives on life as it occurs in a wide variety of experiences. It even includes the story of how the Life is Good company came about, and what it’s still doing today. Interspersed through the stories some scientific studies are included, such as one where people are asked to write about a ‘future self’ that was no longer possible — for divorced women, for example, what the future would have looked like if they had stayed married. This highlighted the idea that while it may be easier to avoid thinking about such things, great sources of meaning can be found through introspection.
In summary, it is a charming book. Flipping through the book now I still feel like I’d remembered most of the anecdotes and studies, and can see how they’re directly relevant in my life today. While the pace of modern life can be intense and even relentless, this book offers a chance to step back for a moment and reflect on just what it is to live a meaningful life.