Searching for Meaning: Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment, and Hope
Webb, J.
Great Potential Press

BOOK REVIEW (Davidson Institute) - This book aims to help individuals who find themselves disillusioned in today’s world by teaching them to understand themselves and their struggles. It also includes helpful information and suggestions for actions that disillusioned idealists can use to better manage their feelings and thoughts in ways that will nurture their idealism and provide a sense of satisfaction and contentment.

Searching for Meaning: Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment, and Hope addresses the struggles bright minds often encounter regarding their idealistic beliefs and the disillusionment they experience. By understanding their struggles, idealists can take action to cope with their disillusionment and live a more content life. This book seems most applicable to adolescents and adults; however, parents may find the information and strategies helpful to develop healthier coping styles if their children are searching for meaning. Author, James T. Webb, Ph. D., has been recognized as one of the 25 most influential psychologists nationally on gifted educated and consults with schools, programs and individuals about the social and emotional needs of gifted and talented children.

Reviewed by the Davidson Institute for Talent Development

In this book, Dr. James T. Webb discusses the cycle of disillusionment that occurs throughout a lifespan: childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Initially, expectations and rules of daily living are clear; however, as one gets older and gains more experience it becomes clear that there tends to be complexities and exceptions to the rules. When these realizations set in, it spins the person into worry and fear, leading them to feel confused and disillusioned. This is generally magnified when a person is gifted as they tend to be more sensitive, intense and idealistic. With this combination, the disillusionment can lead to extreme thoughts of life, death and other existential matters. Dr. Webb then discusses that regardless of who you are, however debilitating and challenging existential depression may be, this experience can provide an opportunity to gain wisdom and experience towards living a more purposeful and content life.

With bright individuals, they feel the disappointment when their ideals are not reached, which can happen as early as grade school. This disappointment can lead to existential depression which is more common among gifted individuals and once experienced must be continually addressed. Depression doesn’t always happen because a person is disillusioned with life, however there tends to be more existential issues in most depression cases. Depression in children and teens is more likely to be expressed as an irritable mood and angry temper outbursts. Boys may act out in ways like fighting, rudeness, restlessness, sulking and drug or alcohol abuse. Girls are more likely to become withdrawn and quiet. It can be difficult to identify depression in teens because early symptoms of underachievement, rebelliousness or irritability are attributed to other causes. Struggling with these types of existential issues can make the individual feel estranged from their peers, especially when they are met with reactions ranging from puzzlement and hostility. This is followed by conflict within themselves or those around them. This alienation can create social and emotional problems. Parents may find that the strategies shared in this book to learn how to manage thoughts may help those feeling depressed diminish their tendency to catastrophize situations.

Some of the tools described in this book discuss how to better understand oneself which helps individuals cope with disillusionment. The book also discusses various ways in which people cope that are not the healthiest ways to move forward. These strategies appear as “quick fixes” which do not last or are limiting. In the end these unhealthy coping strategies can lead to more illusions. Healthier coping styles are shared, many of which parents may find helpful when assisting their child with the development of coping skills.

Overall happiness is attainable and the factors that influence it include: selecting a direction; nurturing meaningful relationships; cultivating a positive attitude; nurturing spiritual emotions; developing material sufficiency; and enhancing inborn temperament.

This book is an engaging read that shares how parents can best support their gifted children by teaching them to manage their ideals along with disillusionments they may experience. By having an understanding of how existential depression manifests, parents can provide the appropriate support to help their child develop healthier coping skills.

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