May 2019 Philosophy Mini-Drive-In (Happiness & Meaning)

In this TED Talk & Philosophy-inspired movie night, we explored questions about a topic that has fascinated thinkers for centuries:  Happiness & Meaning.  Schopenhauer once said: “There is only one inborn error, and that is the notion that we exist in order to be happy” (though, admittedly, Schopenhauer was a complicated sort, so this quote needs context and a bit of unpacking).  For Nietzsche, meaning is where it’s at: For, “he who has a ‘why’,” he said “can bear almost any ‘how’.”  And for virtue ethicists like Plato and Aristotle, happiness is definitely the goal…but you can’t get there without meaning. 

Special Guest Historian

We enjoyed a surprise visit from young historian, Greyson, who shared his knowledge with our group about Reeder’s Alley, bootlegging & the infamous canaries!

(Thanks for bringing us happiness & joy, Greyson!)

In this TED Talk & Philosophy-inspired movie night facilitated by Thomas Baumeister, we explored questions about happiness & meaning through the practice of Socratic inquiry.  Primed by a TED talk film by scholar Emily Esfahani Smith, we looked at the nature of happiness, meaning, and more.

Some of the questions that arose in the process included:

  • What is the difference between happiness and meaningShould we care about one more than the other? 
  • Are contendedness and fulfillment related?
  • Where do things like belonging, purpose, transcendence, and storytelling fit in? 
  • And what about adversity, character development, and goals?   
  • Is there an evolutionary benefit to happiness?
  • Can one find happiness in resignation?
  • Are things that are ‘fleeting’ worth valuing?
  • Is happiness a good thing?
  • And more…

TED Talk Film & Synopsis

Our culture is obsessed with happiness, but what if there’s a more fulfilling path? Happiness comes and goes, says writer Emily Esfahani Smith, but having meaning in life — serving something beyond yourself and developing the best within you — gives you something to hold onto. Learn more about the difference between being happy and having meaning as Smith offers four pillars of a meaningful life.

About the Thinker

Emily Esfahani Smith is an author and journalist who draws on psychology, philosophy, and literature to write about the human experience-why we are the way we are and how we can find grace and meaning in a world that is full of suffering.

For more information visit
(*Biography information Source:  Wikipedia*)

Thank you to the Philosophy Learning & Teaching Organization (PLATO) for supporting philosophy in the community and helping us bring activities like these to the Helena community! 

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