Help is at hand

I’m not much for self-help books. It’s not that I don’t need help, I need all the help I can get, but they pretty much all share the same message as lyrics from any Andrew Lloyd Webber musical: You have the power within. Some people can’t seem to help themselves and they write multiple self-help tomes. Hard on the heels of Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg’s book about how women could make faster progress in business, she has a sequel called Option B.

Lean In seemed to be about having a supportive husband who could help with the work-life balance. But suddenly, he died. Two years later, Sandberg has a new book about grief. The main takeaway? Every night, write down three moments of joy. I’ve done some grieving in my time. I look at my daybook for the rest of the year following my wife’s death in May 2011 and I see events I attended of which I have no recollection. Three moments of joy? Each day? Right.

But everybody deals with grief in different ways. Some people survive; others never surface. More relevant than Sandberg’s books, or the ubiquitous books on finding happiness, of which there are far too many, may I point to The Power of Meaning by Emily Esfahani Smith. Smith’s thesis is that happiness is not the issue, it’s the meaning in your life that matters. And that comes from four places: belonging, purpose, transcendence, and story-telling.

Belonging is about family, community, friends. Purpose is doing something significant like volunteer work or, in my case, writing books, which covers story-telling too. As for transcendence, maybe that’s a bit more mystical. I’ve had some transcendent moments this spring, such as spending ten minutes admiring a neighbour’s magnolia in bloom or picking a nosegay of lily-of-the-valley for someone special. But am I capable of longer-lasting transcendent spells? I’m working on it.

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