What would you rather have: a happy life or a meaningful life?
In surveys, most people list happiness as their top value, and self-help books and life coaches make up part of a multibillion-dollar industry.
But should happiness really be the only goal that motivates us?
Research has found that the pursuit of happiness alone can negatively affect our well-being, and people who highly value it report feeling lonelier on a daily basis.
By contrast, a growing body of evidence is indicating that the pursuit of meaning leads to a deeper and more lasting form of well-being. Indeed, participants in a study who had pursued meaning said they felt more “enriched,” “inspired,” and “part of something greater than myself.”
They also reported fewer negative moods.
But how do you build meaning?
In this series of talks, we’ll explore the science and psychology of meaning. We’ll discuss evidence-based ways human beings build meaningful, purposeful, and fulfilling lives.
You’ll leave with a clear understanding of how these ideas can help you create more meaning and purpose in your own life, and also how to help others do the same.
Many psychologists and philosophers believe that people are hedonists, seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. But what about our appetites for spicy foods, hot baths, horror movies, sad songs, BDSM, and hate reading? How can we explain our choices to suffer—in pursuits such as art, ritual, sex, and sports, and in longer-term projects such as training for a marathon or signing up to go to war? Drawing on research from developmental psychology, social psychology, anthropology, and behavioral economics, I suggest that we are driven by non-hedonistic goals; we revel in difficult practice, we aspire towards moral goodness, and we seek out meaningful lives.
Paul Bloom is Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto, and Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Yale University. Paul Bloom studies how children and adults make sense of the world, with a special focus on pleasure, morality, religion, fiction, and art. He has won numerous awards for his research and teaching. He is past-president of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology, and co-editor of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. He has written for scientific journals such as Nature and Science, and for popular outlets such as The New York Times, The Guardian, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic Monthly. He is the author of six books, including his most recent, The Sweet Spot: The Pleasures of Suffering and the Search for Meaning.
In this talk, Smith presents the latest in psychology and neuroscience (as well as the wisdom of great philosophers) to help us find meaning and hope during the pandemic. She unpacks what she calls the “four pillars of meaning”— belonging, purpose, storytelling, and transcendence — and how we can build some or all of these pillars in our lives through the lockdown.
Together, these pillars help us give back, deepen relationships, set purposeful goals, and make sense of who we are during challenging times. Ultimately, a meaningful life lies in connecting and contributing to ideas beyond yourself — whether it’s your family, your job, or humanity at large. Our most meaningful pursuits — from starting a business to mastering a musical instrument — require hard work, sacrifice, and long-term vision. We don’t necessarily do them to be happy; we do them because they’re meaningful.
For individuals seeking something more in these unprecedented times, Smith’s talk gives us the tools we need to build resiliency, gain a broader perspective, and truly deepen our lives.
Emily Esfahani Smith is the author of The Power of Meaning, an international bestseller. Her writing about psychology and culture has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, the Wall Street Journal, and other publications. She is currently a doctoral student in clinical psychology at Catholic University.
As our civilization careens toward a precipice of climate breakdown, ecological destruction, and gaping inequality, people are losing their existential moorings. Our dominant worldview tells us we’re split between mind and body, separate from each other, and at odds with the natural world. This worldview has passed its expiration date: it’s based on a series of flawed assumptions that have been superseded by modern scientific findings.
In this talk, author Jeremy Lent will discuss themes from his new book, The Web of Meaning, revealing how another worldview is possible—based on our deep interconnectedness with all of life. Showing how modern scientific knowledge echoes the ancient wisdom of earlier cultures, the presentation weaves together findings from modern systems thinking, evolutionary biology, and cognitive neuroscience with insights from Buddhism, Taoism, and Indigenous wisdom.
Jeremy Lent, described by Guardian journalist George Monbiot as “one of the greatest thinkers of our age.” He is an author and speaker whose work investigates the underlying causes of our civilization’s existential crisis and explores pathways toward a life-affirming future. His award-winning book, The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning, examines the way humans have made meaning from the cosmos from hunter-gatherer times to the present day. His new book, The Web of Meaning: Integrating Science and Traditional Wisdom to Find Our Place in the Universe, offers a solid foundation for an integrative worldview that could lead humanity to a sustainable, and flourishing future. He is the founder of the nonprofit Liology Institute and writes topical articles exploring the deeper patterns of political and cultural developments at Patterns of Meaning. You can learn more about his work at www.jeremylent.com
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