As I was standing in line outside of the HOT DOCS Ted Rogers Cinema by myself waiting for the next panel The Secret of A Meaningful Life during the Curious Minds Weekend to start, I noticed a woman who was walking towards me to get to the back door of the cinema. She was wearing a yellow coat and a headband to match along with an interesting demeanour to her. I tried to figure out if she was actually the speaker for the next panel Emily Esfahani Smith who I tried to get myself familiar with by watching YouTube videos of her interviews discussing Lady Gaga earlier in the day. Not being a 100 percent sure, I had a gut feeling that it was her because she had a confident yet unique aura to her that no Torontonian would ever exemplify walking the streets of Bloor and Bathurst. She had a little twinkle in her eye that complemented her grin in which I was trying to figure out why before this panel began. When the audience were let inside the cinema, I sat down near a seat by the left aisle and what do you know, the woman in the yellow walked down the aisle to the fire exit where every major speaker had to stand behind the door before they were introduced. My notion was right and my journey began to figure out why she had that little twinkle in her eye when she was called up to the panel in front of the screen.
I was hoping that Emily would put everything into perspective as I have read a lot posts on the internet on how to achieve happiness or better yet how to hack life. Every person seems to have their own idea of how to achieve this whether it is an average Joe or a celebrity but many desire to continue the search for how to be happier in our own lives. A lot of these points or goals to achieve that level of happiness seems to always overlap. From eating veggies everyday, to saving 90% of your income, to waking up early in the morning for a workout, are all those little bullets that would lead you to the so called promised land. Whether it is 10 reasons to do something because it will make you happy or 20 reasons to not do something because it will make you miserable or let alone go six feet under, there seems to be a common trend that exists. Facebook or Instagram positive affirmations and questions being answered on Quora of how to live and be happy are all examples of the happiness zeitgeist that Smith discusses during her panel. In a world where many are cashing on the happiness market, simultaneously others are trying to maximize their individual happiness rather than finding meaning.
Emily Esfahani Smith breaks down leading a meaningful life into four pillars during the panel and in her book The Power of Meaning. Belonging is the first pillar she mentions where we find a tribe or community that we belong to where people recognize us and where we share the same goals or values. It is a place where we feel that we matter which is like myself going to this panel at Curious Minds with the many others who want to listen to what a speaker like Smith has to say. The second pillar is purpose which is a far reaching goal that we should attain in our lives that motivates us to make a greater contribution to the world. This pillar reminds me of the film City Slickers and a specific scene where Billy Crystal asks Jack Palance what the meaning of life is during their cattle drive. Palance’s character replies by holding up one finger and saying that there is one thing that gives you meaning which is purpose which Crystal’s character has to figure out for himself.
Storytelling is the third pillar that Smith mentions and found difficult to write in The Power of Meaning but where she believes that most resonate. According to Smith, storytelling is where we take our disparate experiences and make them into a coherent narrative where we would be able to make sense of ourselves in the world. This is a pillar that I definitely support having read Wisdom of the Mythtellers by Sean Kane of how storytelling is a key element in saving and making sense of who we are in our environment. Kane discusses in his book the mythic stories shared by the Greeks, Celts, Australian Aborigines, and Native Americans. These were key groups that discussed the very idea of what Smith’s next pillar which is transcendence. These four groups told their stories about the ideas and emotions of the Earth because they knew that nature was something more than they were. Their connection to the Earth allowed them to rise above the everyday world and in return tell their stories of the planet which is a mystical experience according to Smith.
If it wasn’t for going to The Secret of A Meaningful Life panel and listening to Emily Esfahani Smith speak and purchasing her book The Power of Meaning, I would’t be as critical as I am now when I am reading or watching all posts under today’s happiness zeitgeist. What I admire most about Smith is that she has done the classical method of researching the difference between finding happiness and finding meaning rather than cutting, copying and pasting material that we see time and time again. She is actually has gone out and gathered data through her interviews and her experiences that she discusses in her book which means she has empirical research. Rather than being lost in the shuffle of self-proclaimed internet academics who all have their own version of how to achieve happiness in life, Emily has taken the path where her experiences are credible. She is now able to make the distinction between meaning and happiness and to be able to share those stories with others through her talks or through her book The Power of Meaning. Rather than listening to someone who is telling you how to live on a YouTube video that is being recorded in that person’s bedroom, we should work harder to listen to those who have done the work to support their theories like Emily Esfahani Smith. That is reason why she has that twinkle in her eye and above all making a contributing difference to the world.