When people turn away from organized religion, as they have in droves in recent decades, they don’t turn away from the desire for a life of meaning. In fact, they often pursue and find meaning more than ever before.

Like poetry, the visual arts, and film, philosophy and philosophers are finding new curious readers these days. Kieran Setiya – a British-born MIT professor of philosophy – writes profoundly well on living with meaning without steering into “the meaning of life.” This is one of the purposes of his writing this book: to show how this is possible.

The title is deliberate, and Setiya shares his own consistent experiences of life’s toughness and personal suffering.

You don’t need a serious interest in philosophy to enjoy the book. The author discusses novels and novelists as much as he does philosophy. Quotations from philosophers are relatively few, and short. For example, how he describes one of his favorite novels – Dostoevsky’s The Idiot – is his view of life: “open-ended, unpredictable, and ultimately senseless.” But not for a moment should you conclude, then, that this unpredictable life is meaningless.

When Setiya does write about philosophy and philosophers, he does it without jargon and with simple clarity. See the excerpt accompanying this review – about hope and Aristotle – for a good example .

Setiya’s message is that meaning is in the moments of life. He gently debunks the common notion that our lives form narratives; he says, instead, that seeing our lives in narrative form, with action and setting, goals and coherence, is ultimately unhelpful and unrealistic mythmaking. “Stories meander, spiral, explode, and branch, or divide into cells,” he writes. “Take Nicholson Baker’s novella, The Mezzanine, whose plot consists of a journey on an escalator during lunch hour, and whose interest lies in its delightful digressions, as the narrator reflects on shoelaces, straws, deodorants, urinals, paper towels, childhood memories, and escalators themselves. There are digressions within digressions, footnotes that run for paragraphs or pages in a masterpiece of storytelling that goes precisely nowhere.”

A page later, Setiya wisely adds: “The more you appreciate the sheer abundance of incident, the more you’ll see any life as an assortment of small successes and small failures, and the less prone you will be to say, despairingly, 'I’m a loser' – or with misplaced bravado, 'I’m a winner!' Don’t let the lure of the dramatic arc distract you from the digressive amplitude of being alive.”

This strikes us vital wisdom for today. Is it “spiritual” wisdom? Absolutely. You should read this book.