from the world's big
Four ways to find meaning in life
In her book, The Power of Meaning, Emily Esfahani Smith details the four pillars of meaning, arguing that they're much more important than chasing happiness.
In the eighties and nineties, hundreds of studies on happiness were published each year. By 2014, over 10,000 were being conducted annually. This trend was not limited to journals: in 2000, fifty books on happiness were published. In 2008: 4,000.
We are obsessed with happiness, often believing it a birthright, yet as journalist Emily Esfahani Smith notes in her book, The Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed by Happiness, all that searching is actually making us unhappy.
As with my recent conversation with Robert Lustig, Smith cites Aristotle’s concept of eudaemonia as a force for “cultivating the best qualities within you both morally and intellectually and living up to your potential.” Instead of chasing pleasure, we need to institute the search for meaning.
This is challenging during a time when you’re constantly instructed to do “what you love.” Smith counters this advice by invoking German philosopher Immanuel Kant. As with the mythologist Joseph Campbell, who, while famously remembered for saying “follow your bliss,” continued, “If your bliss is just your fun and your excitement, you’re on the wrong track.”
"To Kant, the question is not what makes you happy. The question is how to do your duty, how to best contribute—or, as the theologian Frederick Buechner put it, your vocation lies 'where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.'”
Smith’s beautifully researched homage to this hunger hinges on “four pillars of meaning.” By seeking, cultivating, and maintaining each of these, she argues, happiness arises from a deep sense of contentment rather than the incessant and unyielding grasping for pleasure.
The cruelest punishment imaginable is solitary confinement. Rehabilitating prisoners through this method proves impossible, which is why the American prison system is criticized for being more focused on punishing that reintegrating criminals. Void of human contact, inmates quickly devolve emotionally and psychologically. In part that’s because they’re missing what Smith calls the most important driver of meaning: a sense of belonging.
Chronic loneliness, she notes, “compromises the immune system and leads to early death.” Smith cites the Society for Creative Anachronism, a group of medieval enthusiasts that has grown from fifty fans in 1966 to 60,000 members today. Besides attending numerous events each year, the tribe also displays great feats of empathy, such as raising over $10,000 when members were caught in Hurricane Katrina. To Smith, this signifies the selflessness that exists in like-minded groups.
"Only through focusing on others do we build the pillar of belonging for both ourselves and for them. If we want to find meaning in our own lives, we have to begin by reaching out."
Speaking of prison, Smith tells the story of Coss Marte, a former Lower East Side drug dealer who was making $2 million a year after turning a lucrative Manhattan street corner into a delivery business. When arrested in 2009 he discovered the timing was prescient, as he would have likely died from cardiovascular problems due to his terrible eating habits.
Marte is a prison transformation story turned good. Exercise changed his life; he spent hours every day working out while incarcerated. In 2016 his “prison bootcamp” classes, ConBody, had over 5,000 clients. Marte’s instructors are previous inmates as well, all of whom have found a shared sense of purpose in transforming others through sweat and tears, leaving the blood to pump towards the heart.
"Purpose is a goal toward which we are always working. It is the forward-pointing arrow that motivates our behavior and serves as the organizing principle of our lives."
George Dawes Green founded The Moth in 1997 after a drunken evening that featured bourbon and stories on a Georgia porch. After moving to New York City he attended too many boring poetry readings and wanted something that captured the vibrancy and immediacy of sharing well-crafted stories with others. Today The Moth produces over 500 shows a year around the world.
Advanced communication skills allowed our species to dominate the animal kingdom. Sharing thoughts, ideas, and emotions with others helps keep societies intact. Storytelling is our great tradition; expressing our own biographies and learning from those of others are integral components of our cognitive inheritance, as necessary as food and shelter.
"The stories we tell about ourselves help us understand who we are, how our lives developed, and how they could have unfolded differently. But we also find meaning in the stories told by others."
Smith grew up in a Sufi household. One of my favorite spiritual traditions is the ritual dance of whirling dervishes (which I cover through the music of Mercan Dede in my first book). Through spinning, which is a physical homage to the poetic works of Mevlana Jalal al-din Rumi and his master work, Masnawi, the devotee attempts to achieve fana (annihilation), which is accompanied by rich symbolic textures: the dervish’s hat is a gravestone, their cloak a coffin, and white shirt a shroud. The flute (ney) serves as the mythological Sur waking the dead on the day of Resurrection. In the hall, a line is drawn to divide the visible and invisible worlds, one end human, the other divine.
Transcendence is at the heart of most spiritual traditions. It can be achieved through psychedelics, music, scripture, or meditation. A deep sense of connectedness carries adherents beyond the normal trappings of society. People are able to intimately connect with their environment and peers. Writing of volunteers in a 2015 study focused on the development of empathy through transcendence, Smith notes:
"They abandoned the conceit, which many of us have, that they were the center of the world. Instead, they stepped outside of themselves to connect with and focus on others."
Derek Beres is the author ofWhole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health. Based in Los Angeles, he is working on a new book about spiritual consumerism. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.
Ready to see the future? Nanotronics CEO Matthew Putman talks innovation and the solutions that are right under our noses.
Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
Why do so many people encounter beings after smoking large doses of DMT?
- DMT is arguably the most powerful psychedelic drug on the planet, capable of producing intense hallucinations.
- Researchers recently surveyed more than 2,000 DMT users about their encounters with 'entities' while tripping, finding that respondents often considered these strange encounters to be positive and meaningful.
- The majority of respondents believed the beings they encountered were not hallucinations.
What are DMT beings?<p>Do DMT entities actually exist in some other dimension, or are they hallucinations that the brain generates when its visual processing system is overwhelmed by a powerful tryptamine?<br></p><p>The late American ethnobotanist Terence McKenna believed that DMT beings — which he called "machine elves" — were real. Here's how he once <a href="https://www.ranker.com/list/dmt-machine-elves-facts/inigo-gonzalez" target="_blank">described</a> one of his DMT experiences:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I sank to the floor. I [experienced] this hallucination of tumbling forward into these fractal geometric spaces made of light and then I found myself in the equivalent of the Pope's private chapel and there were insect elf machines proffering strange little tablets with strange writing on them, and I was aghast, completely appalled, because [in] a matter of seconds... my entire expectation of the nature of the world was just being shredded in front of me. I've never actually gotten over it.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">These self-transforming machine elf creatures were speaking in a colored language which condensed into rotating machines that were like Fabergé eggs but crafted out of luminescent superconducting ceramics and liquid crystal gels. All this stuff was just so weird and so alien and so un-English-able that it was a complete shock — I mean, the literal turning inside out of [my] intellectual universe!"</p><p>McKenna believed machine elves exist in alternate realities, which form a "<a href="https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/old-favourites-the-archaic-revival-1991-by-terence-mckenna-1.3924887" target="_blank">raging universe of active intelligence that is transhuman, hyperdimensional, and extremely alien.</a>" But he was far from the first to believe that DMT is a doorway to other realms.</p><p>Indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin have used ayahuasca in religious ceremonies for centuries, though no one is quite sure when they first started experimenting with the psychedelic brew. The Jibaro people of the Ecuadorian rainforest believed ayahuasca allowed regular people, not just shamans, to <a href="https://atrium.lib.uoguelph.ca/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10214/17902/RichardsonG_202004_HonThesis.pdf?sequence=3" target="_blank">speak directly to the gods</a>. The 19th-century Ecuadorian geographer Villavicencio wrote of other Amazonian shamans who used ahaysuca (known as the "vine of the dead") to contact spirits and foresee enemy battle plans.</p><p>In the West, research on DMT experiences has been sparse yet interesting. The psychiatrist Rick Strassman conducted some of the first human DMT trials at the University of New Mexico in the early 1990s. He found that <a href="https://www.erowid.org/chemicals/dmt/dmt_article3.shtml" target="_blank">"at least half"</a> of his research subjects had encountered some form of entity after taking DMT.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I was neither intellectually nor emotionally prepared for the frequency with which contact with beings occurred in our studies, nor the often utterly bizarre nature of these experiences," Strassman wrote in his book "DMT The Spirit Molecule".</p>
Manuel Medir / Getty<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Whenever I tried to pull any information out of the entities regarding themselves, the data that was given up was always relevant only to me. The elves could not give me any piece of data I did not already know, nor could their existence be sustained under any kind of prolonged scrutiny."</p><p>It's also worth noting that not all people who smoke DMT see beings, and that some see beings that look <a href="https://www.erowid.org/chemicals/dmt/dmt_article3.shtml" target="_blank">nothing like elves or aliens</a>. The diversity of these reports seems to count against the argument that DMT beings exist in some objective alternate reality.</p><p>In other words, if DMT beings exist in some other dimension, shouldn't they appear the same to anyone who visits that dimension? Or do the beings assume a different appearance based on who's looking? Or are there many types of beings in the DMT universe, but most look like elves? </p><p>You might start seeing elves just trying to sort this stuff out.</p><p>Ultimately, nobody knows exactly why DMT beings take the forms they do, or whether they're just figments of overstimulated imaginations. And the answers might be beside the point. </p><p>In the recent survey, 60 percent of participants said their encounter with DMT beings "produced a desirable alteration in their conception of reality whereas only 1% indicated an undesirable alteration in their conception of reality."</p><p>DMT beings may be nothing more than projections of the subconscious mind. But these bizarre encounters do help some people find real meaning, whether it's through personal revelation or the raw power of ontological shock.</p>
President Vladimir Putin announces approval of Russia's coronavirus vaccine but scientists warn it may be unsafe.
A new coronavirus vaccine on display at the Nikolai Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, Russia.
Credit: Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr/ Russian Direct Investment Fund via AP
Medical workers draw blood from volunteers participating in a trial of a coronavirus vaccine at the Budenko Main Military Hospital outside Moscow, Russia.
Credit: Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP
A report from the New York Times raises questions over how the teletherapy startup Talkspace handles user data.
- In the report, several former employees said that "individual users' anonymized conversations were routinely reviewed and mined for insights."
- Talkspace denied using user data for marketing purposes, though it acknowledged that it looks at client transcripts to improve its services.
- It's still unclear whether teletherapy is as effective as traditional therapy.
Talkspace.com<p>Former employees also questioned the legitimacy of certain interventions by the company into client-therapist interactions. For example, after one therapist sent a client a link to an online anxiety worksheet, a company representative instructed her to try to keep clients inside the app.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I was like, 'How do you know I did that?'" Karissa Brennan, a therapist who worked with Talkspace from 2015 to 2017, told the Times. "They said it was private, but it wasn't."</p><p>Other former employees said the company would pay special attention to its "enterprise partner" clients, who worked at companies like Google. One therapist said Talkspace contacted her for taking too long to respond to Google clients.</p><p>Talkspace responded to the Times with a Medium <a href="https://medium.com/@founders_22883/talkspace-founders-respond-to-a-new-york-times-article-78d6f5c45c59" target="_blank">post</a>, which claimed the Times report contained false and "uninformed assertions."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Talkspace is a HIPAA/HITECH and SOC2 approved platform, audited annually by external vendors, and has deployed additional technologies to keep its data safe, exceeding all existing regulatory requirements," the post states.</p>