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  • I used to think

  • the whole purpose of life was pursuing happiness.

  • Everyone said the path to happiness was success,

  • so I searched for that ideal job,

  • that perfect boyfriend, that beautiful apartment.

  • But instead of ever feeling fulfilled,

  • I felt anxious and adrift.

  • And I wasn't alone; my friends -- they struggled with this, too.

  • Eventually, I decided to go to graduate school for positive psychology

  • to learn what truly makes people happy.

  • But what I discovered there changed my life.

  • The data showed that chasing happiness can make people unhappy.

  • And what really struck me was this:

  • the suicide rate has been rising around the world,

  • and it recently reached a 30-year high in America.

  • Even though life is getting objectively better

  • by nearly every conceivable standard,

  • more people feel hopeless,

  • depressed and alone.

  • There's an emptiness gnawing away at people,

  • and you don't have to be clinically depressed to feel it.

  • Sooner or later, I think we all wonder:

  • Is this all there is?

  • And according to the research, what predicts this despair

  • is not a lack of happiness.

  • It's a lack of something else,

  • a lack of having meaning in life.

  • But that raised some questions for me.

  • Is there more to life than being happy?

  • And what's the difference between being happy

  • and having meaning in life?

  • Many psychologists define happiness as a state of comfort and ease,

  • feeling good in the moment.

  • Meaning, though, is deeper.

  • The renowned psychologist Martin Seligman says

  • meaning comes from belonging to and serving something beyond yourself

  • and from developing the best within you.

  • Our culture is obsessed with happiness,

  • but I came to see that seeking meaning is the more fulfilling path.

  • And the studies show that people who have meaning in life,

  • they're more resilient,

  • they do better in school and at work,

  • and they even live longer.

  • So this all made me wonder:

  • How can we each live more meaningfully?

  • To find out, I spent five years interviewing hundreds of people

  • and reading through thousands of pages of psychology,

  • neuroscience and philosophy.

  • Bringing it all together,

  • I found that there are what I call four pillars of a meaningful life.

  • And we can each create lives of meaning

  • by building some or all of these pillars in our lives.

  • The first pillar is belonging.

  • Belonging comes from being in relationships

  • where you're valued for who you are intrinsically

  • and where you value others as well.

  • But some groups and relationships deliver a cheap form of belonging;

  • you're valued for what you believe,

  • for who you hate,

  • not for who you are.

  • True belonging springs from love.

  • It lives in moments among individuals,

  • and it's a choice -- you can choose to cultivate belonging with others.

  • Here's an example.

  • Each morning, my friend Jonathan buys a newspaper

  • from the same street vendor in New York.

  • They don't just conduct a transaction, though.

  • They take a moment to slow down, talk,

  • and treat each other like humans.

  • But one time, Jonathan didn't have the right change,

  • and the vendor said,

  • "Don't worry about it."

  • But Jonathan insisted on paying,

  • so he went to the store and bought something he didn't need

  • to make change.

  • But when he gave the money to the vendor,

  • the vendor drew back.

  • He was hurt.

  • He was trying to do something kind,

  • but Jonathan had rejected him.

  • I think we all reject people in small ways like this without realizing it.

  • I do.

  • I'll walk by someone I know and barely acknowledge them.

  • I'll check my phone when someone's talking to me.

  • These acts devalue others.

  • They make them feel invisible and unworthy.

  • But when you lead with love, you create a bond

  • that lifts each of you up.

  • For many people, belonging is the most essential source of meaning,

  • those bonds to family and friends.

  • For others, the key to meaning is the second pillar: purpose.

  • Now, finding your purpose is not the same thing

  • as finding that job that makes you happy.

  • Purpose is less about what you want than about what you give.

  • A hospital custodian told me her purpose is healing sick people.

  • Many parents tell me,

  • "My purpose is raising my children."

  • The key to purpose is using your strengths to serve others.

  • Of course, for many of us, that happens through work.

  • That's how we contribute and feel needed.

  • But that also means that issues like disengagement at work,

  • unemployment,

  • low labor force participation --

  • these aren't just economic problems, they're existential ones, too.

  • Without something worthwhile to do,

  • people flounder.

  • Of course, you don't have to find purpose at work,

  • but purpose gives you something to live for,

  • some "why" that drives you forward.

  • The third pillar of meaning is also about stepping beyond yourself,

  • but in a completely 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.

  • For one person I talked to, transcendence came from seeing art.

  • For another person, it was at church.

  • For me, I'm a writer, and it happens through writing.

  • Sometimes I get so in the zone that I lose all sense of time and place.

  • These transcendent experiences can change you.

  • One study had students look up at 200-feet-tall eucalyptus trees

  • for one minute.

  • But afterwards they felt less self-centered,

  • and they even behaved more generously

  • when given the chance to help someone.

  • Belonging, purpose, transcendence.

  • Now, the fourth pillar of meaning, I've found,

  • tends to surprise people.

  • The fourth pillar is storytelling,

  • the story you tell yourself about yourself.

  • Creating a narrative from the events of your life brings clarity.

  • It helps you understand how you became you.

  • But we don't always realize that we're the authors of our stories

  • and can change the way we're telling them.

  • Your life isn't just a list of events.

  • You can edit, interpret and retell your story,

  • even as you're constrained by the facts.

  • I met a young man named Emeka, who'd been paralyzed playing football.

  • After his injury, Emeka told himself,

  • "My life was great playing football,

  • but now look at me."

  • People who tell stories like this --

  • "My life was good. Now it's bad." --

  • tend to be more anxious and depressed.

  • And that was Emeka for a while.

  • But with time, he started to weave a different story.

  • His new story was,

  • "Before my injury, my life was purposeless.

  • I partied a lot and was a pretty selfish guy.

  • But my injury made me realize I could be a better man."

  • That edit to his story changed Emeka's life.

  • After telling the new story to himself,

  • Emeka started mentoring kids,

  • and he discovered what his purpose was:

  • serving others.

  • The psychologist Dan McAdams calls this a "redemptive story,"

  • where the bad is redeemed by the good.

  • People leading meaningful lives, he's found,

  • tend to tell stories about their lives

  • defined by redemption, growth and love.

  • But what makes people change their stories?

  • Some people get help from a therapist,

  • but you can do it on your own, too,

  • just by reflecting on your life thoughtfully,

  • how your defining experiences shaped you,

  • what you lost, what you gained.

  • That's what Emeka did.

  • You won't change your story overnight;

  • it could take years and be painful.

  • After all, we've all suffered, and we all struggle.

  • But embracing those painful memories can lead to new insights and wisdom,

  • to finding that good that sustains you.

  • Belonging, purpose, transcendence, storytelling:

  • those are the four pillars of meaning.

  • When I was younger,

  • I was lucky enough to be surrounded by all of the pillars.

  • My parents ran a Sufi meetinghouse from our home in Montreal.

  • Sufism is a spiritual practice associated with the whirling dervishes

  • and the poet Rumi.

  • Twice a week, Sufis would come to our home

  • to meditate, drink Persian tea, and share stories.

  • Their practice also involved serving all of creation

  • through small acts of love,

  • which meant being kind even when people wronged you.

  • But it gave them a purpose: to rein in the ego.

  • Eventually, I left home for college

  • and without the daily grounding of Sufism in my life,

  • I felt unmoored.

  • And I started searching for those things that make life worth living.

  • That's what set me on this journey.

  • Looking back, I now realize

  • that the Sufi house had a real culture of meaning.

  • The pillars were part of the architecture,

  • and the presence of the pillars helped us all live more deeply.

  • Of course, the same principle applies

  • in other strong communities as well --

  • good ones and bad ones.

  • Gangs, cults:

  • these are cultures of meaning that use the pillars

  • and give people something to live and die for.

  • But that's exactly why we as a society

  • must offer better alternatives.

  • We need to build these pillars within our families and our institutions

  • to help people become their best selves.

  • But living a meaningful life takes work.

  • It's an ongoing process.

  • As each day goes by, we're constantly creating our lives,

  • adding to our story.

  • And sometimes we can get off track.

  • Whenever that happens to me,

  • I remember a powerful experience I had with my father.

  • Several months after I graduated from college,

  • my dad had a massive heart attack that should have killed him.

  • He survived, and when I asked him what was going through his mind

  • as he faced death,

  • he said all he could think about was needing to live

  • so he could be there for my brother and me,

  • and this gave him the will to fight for life.

  • When he went under anesthesia for emergency surgery,

  • instead of counting backwards from 10,

  • he repeated our names like a mantra.

  • He wanted our names to be the last words he spoke on earth

  • if he died.

  • My dad is a carpenter and a Sufi.

  • It's a humble life,

  • but a good life.

  • Lying there facing death, he had a reason to live:

  • love.

  • His sense of belonging within his family,

  • his purpose as a dad,

  • his transcendent meditation, repeating our names --

  • these, he says, are the reasons why he survived.

  • That's the story he tells himself.

  • That's the power of meaning.

  • Happiness comes and goes.

  • But when life is really good

  • and when things are really bad,

  • having meaning gives you something to hold on to.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

I used to think

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【TED】Emily Esfahani Smith: There's more to life than being happy (There's more to life than being happy | Emily Esfahani Smith)

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    Pei posted on 2018/11/25
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