Review - The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters

"This wise, stirring book argues that the search for meaning can immeasurably deepen our lives and is far more fulfilling than the pursuit of personal happiness."

The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters emphasizes that our search for meaning can be found all around us, right here and right now. Amid compelling research and thought-provoking stories, Emily Esfahani Smith delves into how we create meaning in our lives.

In conducting the research for her book, Emily Esfahani Smith found four themes that arose from her conversations with people living meaningful lives and those who were still searching as well as psychologists who defined what it means to lead a meaningful life. The four pillars of meaning are: belonging, purpose, storytelling and transcendence.


What Smith found was that belonging is the most important driver of meaning. Belonging encompasses the need to "feel understood, recognized and affirmed by our friends, family members and romantic partners." When people feel like they belong, they are in relationships based on mutual care and have frequent pleasant interactions with others.


Purpose has 2 dimensions: it is a goal towards which we are always working and it involves a contribution to the world. Smith discusses research about how people can find purpose at work by adopting a service mindset. So it doesn't matter what a person actually does; the person who finds meaning in their work see their work as a way to help others.


"Our storytelling impulse emerges from a deep-seated need all humans share: the need to make sense of the world." In looking at the patterns of people leading meaningful lives, what they all share is to tell redemptive stories, where their suffering has some meaning. 


When people are in transcendent states, they have a sense of their own self washing away with all its petty concerns. As well, they feel deeply connected to other people and everything that exists in the world. She describes the Overview Effect, what happens when astronauts who go into space and look back at the planet. Astronaut Jeff Ashby says, "You realize that the planet is really small. You could circle it in just 90 minutes. With one or two minor exceptions, you don't see the boundaries between countries.... So I got this sense of connectedness - that we are all connected in some way."

In the chapter titled, Cultures of Meaning, Smith talks about meaning related to work. She remarks on a Gallup poll where 70% of people identified that they were not engaged in their work. This is described as "uninvolved, uncommitted, and unenthusiastic." When people do identify meaning in their work, research has shown it provides a powerful motivativing force.

In addition, having meaningful work has dramatic consequences on health.  Psychologists speculate that people leading meaningful lives take better care of themselves.

The Power of Meaning is a captivating read. With a perfect blend of stories, science and good writing, the book offers a lot to ponder. 

8 Powerful Habits to Make a Difference

“It’s the hand reaching out with the gift from inside.”

As we approach the longest night of the year, the season pulls us to inner reflections. The line above is lyrics from a song by Fred Penner called The Season; I always appreciate the spirit delivered through his words.

Because I work in social services, I see the starkness of our troubled world and generosity every day.  I am fortunate to see how acts of kindness and kind regard make a big difference in others’ lives.

What I also see is a lot of people working hard every day to make a difference in others’ lives.

What I know is making a difference happens in ordinary ways. It isn’t hard to cultivate the spirit.

Here are some excellent ways to develop making-a-difference habits:

Work on the right things

When we are making our greatest impact, we experience the most satisfaction. How do we focus our energy so this can happen?

We have many choices in a day about how to spend our time. In my own life, I am astonished when an entire busy day passes without me attending to what matters most. Working on the right things – those most important activities – will spread out into the world, affecting others.

To attend to what makes a difference in life, do two things. Instead of a to-do list, create a biggest priority list. Then schedule the top priorities to make sure it happens.

Love what you do

The biggest influence we can have on others is to be truly engaged with what we are doing. Our enthusiasm and liveliness touches people in ways we don’t know.

Develop the habit by making time to do what you love to do.

Be curious

Being curious is connected to loving what we do; the more we follow that scent of what pulls us, the more we touch what matters most.

Being curious is a life changer, from attending interviews to public speaking. When we are curious, we are open. When we are open, there are possibilities we may never have imagined.

Cultivate the habit of curiosity by asking questions:

  • What about this situation is working or not working for you?
  • How do you want to help?
  • Where can you make a difference?
  • What is a burning issue for you?

Take care of yourself

We are our most helpful to others when we have taken care of ourselves.

Remember to take care by

  • sleeping
  • healthy eating
  • exercising
  • rest and relaxation – have fun!
  • practicing radical self care

Take charge of your work life

Where would you like to be in 5 years from now? What kind of work environment do you do your best? Do you feel as if you are on track with your work life?

Being in command of where you are headed provides the stable ground required for doing work that makes a difference to others.

To develop this habit, review your work life once or twice a year. A way to do this:

  • Reflect on what went well in the past 6 months.
  • What would you have liked to have improved?
  • Where would you like to focus your energy in the next 6 months or a year?
  • What are the steps you need to get there?

Stand up

We bring along our values to everything we do and the decisions we make. Standing up for what we believe in provides the link to making a difference in others’ lives. People who share values work towards a common good.

To develop this habit, stand up for what you believe. There are many ways you can show up:

  • volunteering
  • quitting something
  • starting something

Stay present in life

Making a difference often happens in ways you do not know. Through our actions, we are planting seeds all the time, whether it is an act of kindness that gets passed on or words of encouragement that make a day.

Whatever you do, don’t underestimate the power of a smiling face.

To develop this habit, see yourself as a receptacle where you are both doing acts of kindness and recognizing the acts of kindness happening to you. You are a part of something bigger.

Start now

The way we make a difference is finding those moments delivered to us each day – opening a door, giving someone a gift just because or buying food for the homeless person outside the grocery store.

Develop this habit by starting now.


I would love to hear about people making a difference! Share your stories on the Facebook page – Finding Work That Matters. 

You are find it here:

Finding Work That Matters Facebook Page

3 Key Behaviours of People Who Make a Difference

I have been sticking close to home this last week. Last Sunday I had an incident that left me with a severe hamstring injury, enough that I am still struggling to sit as I write this. With the experiences I have had this week, I have been considering what it means to make a difference.

What I have been experiencing since the incident is phenomenal kindness of others.  From the health care practitioners to friends to my amazing family, I have been gifted with deep caring. I have a lot of gratitude. Especially having the privilege of my daughter standing by my bedside for hours. (Where are the chairs in emergency rooms?)

During the week, I met people doing many different kinds of work. Now that my life has slowed down to a shuffle pace, I am seeing how much each of these people are making a difference in not only my life, but in the lives of others.

For some of the occupations, the influence they have seems a bit more obvious than others.

On Sunday I had my first experience with paramedics; they were kind and paid attention to not only what I said but also how I was saying it to them. I know how much they put themselves out there every day to make sure people get what they need in the moment. To experience it was another thing.

As I watched the tree tops out the back window, I had no doubt I was in good hands.

I saw a lot of medical professionals that day – doctor, nurses and technicians – each one tried to make my life easier. The medical field is driven by people who are committed to making a difference.

Affecting others is not just in the healthcare field. I observed some behaviour similarities displayed by all the people who made a difference in my life this week: 

1.         They make an effort.

Whether it is work that they are paid to do or what they do in their “off-time,” people who are committed to making a difference extend themselves to people around them.

2.        They listen.

And they take the time to listen. One of humans’ deepest needs is to be heard and someone who makes a difference understands this. Besides the facts, they also listen to what is happening on an emotional level.

3.      They emanate empathy.

Truly understanding that every one of us is vulnerable allows us to bridge between the helper and the helpee. At the end of the day, compassion goes a long way. 

Shortly after I reported to my work that I would not be coming in, the manager passed on healthcare contacts. Every day, I see my co-workers offer resources and help to clients; at the receiving end, I could see how much the right referral can make such a difference in some else’s life. I see my referral as a magician!

When I talk to people about the kind of work that they would like to pursue, they often say that they want to make a difference. What I got to see first hand this week was the extent to which that happens in an ordinary day.

At one event this week, when I was so uncomfortable trying to find a position where I didn’t experience pain, I stood up and winced from the muscle spasm. A woman across the table looked at me with such compassion. I am not sure she even knew how how her kindness eased that moment.

I had a lot of takeways this week. Related to work, I see that indeed in every occupation, there is an opportunity to truly affect people in a myriad of ways.

The server, barista, car sales person, cashier, produce market owner, and librarian enter your life on a daily basis – you could be one of them and you may have no idea of how you are affecting the life of the person in front of you. By adding more strawberries to the pint. Or genuinely asking someone how they are doing. Or making beautiful coffee art. 

The question then to me isn’t about a listing of occupations that make a difference but how you, in your own unique way, contributes to the world. It may be about easing suffering but it also could be about spreading joy.

Where do you see people making a difference in your life?   

Click on the comment below....

Doing Good Work: How to Make a Difference

One of the key ways for enjoying your work is by making a difference in other people's lives.

An organizational psychology doctor student at the University of Michigan, Adam Grant, found in his field studies that when your work has a positive impact on others, it makes a difference to your job satisfaction and productivity.

People want to help.  As social beings, you are hardwired to be and do with others.

What does making a difference look like?  In some way, however you help, you will enhance another person's life, impacting in ways that ease suffering, extend a helping hand or bring joy to their lives.

Easing suffering

the shoebox project - gifts for women-in-need

the shoebox project - gifts for women-in-need

Making a difference for you might mean working directly to helping with suffering.  From paramedics to counsellors to relief aid workers, direct service work has immediate feedback on how others are impacted.

Perhaps how you want to contribute is in subtler ways. For example, for those who experience anxiety filling out forms, another person's help in filling out a vital application can shift the experience from fear to calm.

As you can see, helping others who are suffering can be about your occupation or through a volunteer position or by just being who you are.

Extending a hand

I have always been intrigued with Habit for Humanity, the organization who makes affordable housing accessible to low-income families who would otherwise never own a home.  Volunteer time and donated materials are the backbone of how this initiative works.  The organization is all about extending a hand.

Making a difference by helping others in this way is also in work such as providing advocacy, working in a second-hand clothing store or any non-profit social service agency, or giving information at a tourist centre.

Extending a hand means offering kindness to others.

I read an article recently about how to help the homeless.  One of the basic ways is to acknowledge that they exist. Say hello. Street people are frequently treated as if they are "less than," and experience anything from avoidance to abuse.  Say hello and smile.

Daily life offers many opportunities to lend a hand.

Bring joy and meaning to others

A lot of jobs can bring a sense of meaning to other people's lives.  I remember being in an art store with an elderly shop keeper; he moved quite slow. When he offered to put my pencils in a bag, it made sense to not have them loose in my purse. Almost immediately, I was rethinking my decision.

He took so long to find the right size bag and then place the pencil in the right way. When he reached for the stapler, I surrendered. What I noticed was how careful he was packaging my pencils. I was honoured by his consideration.

He made an impact on my day.

18 - Making a difference.png

Making a difference by bringing joy can happen, too, in many types of work. A barista who makes spectacular coffee art, a helpful librarian, a mechanic who assures a stranded motorist, or a bagger at the grocery store - all of these people bring smiles to others. 

Occupations like artists, writers and teachers make difference in people's lives through thought-provoking ideas and creations, where the audience gains a new perspective or understanding. 

Some of the biggest differences you can make in another person's life is in ordinary ways.  Encouraging others, telling people what you appreciate about them and being considerate are some of the best offerings.

Generosity, both through giving to others and through extending good will, plants deep seeds and makes profound difference in other lives.

Is it important to you that making a difference is a part of your work?

When thinking of a career, how do you choose one that makes a difference?  As you can see above, there are many ways this can happen.  The difference you make will have a combination of 3 factors:

Know what making a difference means to you

  • What is your own personal definition of making a difference? 
  • Each one of us has a special way of helping others. What is your vision of how you can improve some part of the world?

Identify your strengths and move in that direction

  • Where you will feel the most effective has everything to do with your strengths.  What do you do that makes you feel strong?
  • You will offer the most when you are working in your strengths; you will also experience the most satisfaction and the recipients of your gifts and talents will be most impacted when you are in your element.
  • For an exploration of strengths, check out this article. 

Take a stand.  Do what’s important to you.

  • What makes you angry? 
  • Where does injustice tug at you? 
  • By answering these questions, you will get a sense of what is important to you. 
  • Our values are central to where we want to make a difference. 
  • Explore your values here.

How do you want to make a difference?

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Check out this article on making a difference in daily ways:

Here's an inspirational video on making a difference:

You are welcome to leave comments below - what makes a difference to you? 



How can I help?

A great question!  Especially where it relates to work.

Last week as I was putting my groceries in the car, an onion dropped to the ground and disappeared underneath the car behind me. When I bent to look, I saw it was too far to reach.  I tried to rescue it with the ice scraper from my car. 

A young boy said, “I can help.”  He shimmied under the car and brushed the onion to the side where his mother retrieved it. 

Even before I thanked him, I noticed he was beaming. As he said goodbye, he skipped down the street.

Though I was happy my onion was retrieved, I was more taken with this boy’s delight.  The act of helping is contagious.

Later I thought of Anthony Robbins’ list of human needs and in particular, the one on contribution.  We all have a deep desire to be of service, to support others.  Contributing to others is hard-wired as I saw in that young boy. 

When I was work on the meaningfulness module for the Finding Work That Matters  model, I realized that helping others was inherent to meaningfulness.

To get at the root of what is meaningful to you, ask yourself the question, what is my greatest contribution to others?  This will translate directly into job satisfaction.

But job satisfaction is in short supply.

A 2013 Report conducted by the Gallup organization found 70% of workers were not engaged at work.  With only 30% of people experiencing job satisfaction, what does this say about the state of our workplaces?   

In addition to the demands of the modern work life, dissatisfaction is also a measurement of people not doing work where they are using their gifts and talents.  In the Gallup survey, only 36% of the respondents said they had opportunities to do what they did best. 

What a loss for the workplace!

When workers are contributing in their own best way, they make their businesses shine because they will get better and better at what they do and then do better and better work.  Motivation to learn more increases and impacts directly on the business’ success. 

Work becomes more meaningful when we are contributing our best.  But contributing our best also needs to help others. 

The desire to help we expressed as a child is intrinsic to a motivated employee.

How to create such workplaces?  We develop a “how can I help?” attitude.  Here are some thoughts:

1.         Look for the opportunities where you can contribute your best. 

The first step is to find out what your gifts and talents are and the next one is to find places where you can contribute. 

2.         Become a giver. 

What this means is giving to others without expecting anything in return.  The value of being of service is what you see in admired leaders. 

3.         Look at the big picture.

How do you see what you do as making an impact?  Understand this will be unique to you. 

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