The Lavin Agency Speakers Bureau

A speakers bureau that represents the best original thinkers,
writers, and doers for speaking engagements.

The Case for ‘Tragic Optimism’: Emily Esfahani Smith for The New York Times

How can we protect our mental health during a global pandemic? Emily Esfahani Smith, author of the critically acclaimed The Power of Meaning, argues that the answer lies not in a quest for happiness, but a search for meaning.  

“When researchers and clinicians look at who copes well in crisis and even grows through it, it’s not those who focus on pursuing happiness to feel better; it’s those who cultivate an attitude of tragic optimism,” Emily Esfahani Smith writes in her latest op-ed for The New York Times. Coined by psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankel, the term refers to an “ability to maintain hope and find meaning in life despite its inescapable pain, loss, and suffering.”


To illustrate the effectiveness of tragic optimism, Smith points to a study conducted after the events of 9/11. In general, people reported higher instances of fear, anxiety, or hopelessness—but the emotions were more debilitating for some than others. “What set those resilient students apart was their ability to find the good. Unlike the less resilient students, the resilient reported experiencing more positive emotions, like love and gratitude,” Smith writes. It didn’t mean they denied horror of the attack, but that they were able to find hope despite it.


Pursuing things that make us happy—whether it be taking time to exercise, or spending time with a loved one—does make us feel better, albeit temporarily. But when it comes to coping, happiness does not penetrate the psyche as deeply as meaning does, Smith notes. “The things that make our lives meaningful, like volunteering or working, are stressful and require effort.” Yet they also inspire and enrich our lives, connecting us to something bigger than ourselves. By searching for meaning and adopting the spirit of tragic optimism, people will be able to actually grow through adversity.


Read her full article here.


To book speaker Emily Esfahani Smith for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency today, her exclusive speakers bureau.

Lavin’s Top Happiness & Wellness Speakers Inspire Personal Growth and Positive Change

Everyone wants to be happy and healthy—but it doesn’t come easy. The pressure of performing well at work and having a fulfilling personal life can often be hard to manage—and that’s where Lavin’s Top Happiness & Wellness Speakers come in. Experts in how to actively enhance our inner lives and outer selves, they inspire audiences to take charge of their own lives, engage with their environment, explore the myriad of factors that affect happiness and mental health, and get the most out of life.

The Motivational Power of Gratitude | Valorie Kondos Field


Valorie Kondos Field is the former UCLA Women’s Gymnastics Coach who breathed life into the sport by shifting away from a win-at-all-costs mentality, to considering her students as whole people, rather than just athletes, instead. Her unorthodox leadership style centered around practicing gratitude, taking personal ownership, and recognizing joy. And it paid off: she became a seven-time NCAA champion coach, and a UCLA Hall of Fame inductee. Candid and inspiring, Kondos Field uses her experience from the world of elite sports—as well as her experience as a breast cancer survivor—to show how to motivate positive change and rise above challenges to reach high-performance success.


The happy city experiment | Charles Montgomery | TEDxVancouver


Charles Montgomery is an urban design consultant and the author of Happy City. His work uses psychology to create urban experiments that help us understand our surroundings—and ourselves—better than ever. To Montgomery, our cities aren’t simply places where we live and work: they’re behavioral devices whose shapes and systems alter our mental, emotional and physical health. Drawing from his own research, experiments, and careful observation, he gets people thinking about how urban development and design should take happiness into consideration, and highlights the best setups and strategies from around the world where happier, healthier spaces exist.


Emily Esfahani Smith on Crafting a Life that Matters


Emily Esfahani Smith offers us a more fulfilling alternative to the endless pursuit of the ever-elusive concept of happiness: purpose. Combining storytelling with years of research into psychology, philosophy and neuroscience, she explores how, instead of valuing happiness alone, we should engage with a lifelong search for meaning. Drawing from her book, The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters, Smith offers methods to let go of our harmful ideas of happiness, pursue healthier goals that are truly rewarding, and enrich our lives both at work and at home. 


How Changing Our Stories Can Change Our Lives |  Lori Gottlieb


Lori Gottlieb was a Hollywood film executive and a nationally recognized journalist, before she became a psychotherapist, and now, a bestselling author. Her book, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, is a candid, absorbing memoir about being both a patient and a clinician. Through her clinical work, she discovered that stories make up the core of our lives and give them deeper meaning—but that we’re not always telling ourselves the right ones. Funny and compassionate, she shares how revising our well-worn narratives is the key to moving forward, healing, finding happiness, and creating lives of deep fulfillment.


What is your entrepreneurial style? | Tony Tjan


Anthony Tjan knows that a company is only as good as its people. But how do we attract good people? Drawing from his aptly titled book Good People, Tjan shows leaders how to put goodness into practice: a way to deepen relationships and revive the purpose of our work. He shares his five common sense principals for leadership and communication, and show you how prioritizing and fostering goodness and compassion in yourself and others drives positive and progressive change.


Karl Subban: Inspire Teams by Building Deep Relationships


Karl Subban has more than a few accomplishments under his belt—like his 30 plus years as an educator and former principal—but perhaps his proudest is being a hockey dad to P.K., Jordan, and Malcolm Subban. Raising one NHL player is impressive, but raising three is extraordinary: it’s proof that Subban knows how to bring out the best in people. Drawing on his experience as both a father and a teacher, Karl explores the importance of strong leadership, and encourages others to reach their full potential. With a commanding, inspiring presence, Subban reinvigorates audiences, and remind them of the true power of believing in oneself.


Where Do Success and Happiness Meet? | Daniel Lerner


Dan Lerner knows that in such a competitive society it feels like finding success at work comes at the cost of finding true happiness and authentic connection—and that that doesn’t have to be the case. A psychology professor at New York University, where he teaches their most popular elective “The Science of Happiness”, Lerner reveals how passion, grit, and happiness play an integral role in unlocking our true potential and making the most of our ambition. Also the author of U Thrive: How to Succeed in College and in Life, Lerner has made a remarkable career out of helping people achieve excellence, at work and at home. If we can pursue our passions in the right way, we can avoid burnout, thrive under pressure, and come out happy and accomplished.


Diversity Speaker Ritu Bhasin: Three Pillars of the Authentic Self


Ritu Bhasin is a leadership consultant who discovered an undeniable relationship between inclusion and authenticity. Her book, The Authenticity Principle, explores this connection, as well as insights from her work as a yoga and mindfulness instructor—a practice she credits as being a key pillar of building personal and professional joy. When workplaces are more inclusive and diverse, and employees are encouraged to express their individuality, they become more productive and feel more connected to a shared purpose.


We're All Creative—and Neuroscience Proves It | Scott Barry Kaufman


Scott Barry Kaufman is the bestselling author of Ungifted and Wired to Create, and he uses science to understand how we can cultivate meaning and creativity in our lives. In his upcoming book Transcend, the renowned professor reimagines Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs by weaving in the latest contemporary research on connection, creativity, love, and purpose. Becoming the best version of ourselves, or achieving self-actualization, is often thought of as a purely individual pursuit. Kaufman shows us that it involves a merging between the self and the world around us. Insightful and empowering, he reveals that we don’t have to choose either self-actualization or self-transcendence: finding fulfillment in our lives comes from nurturing both.


Behavior Change For Good: David Yeager


David Yeager, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Stanford, and Carol Dweck’s protégé, is a pro at making people feel respected. His research examines the intersection of social, economic and physiological factors, and how they combine to create positive or negative environments. He shares the latest data and discoveries on traits like grit and a growth mindset—and how harnessing these qualities can compensate for disadvantages. A sense of belonging is important to any successful team, and backed by large-scale behavioral research, Yeager provides the tools to develop workplaces that promote skill-sharing, and empower everyone to achieve excellence.

To book one of these inspiring Happiness & Wellness Speakers for your next speaking engagement, contact The Lavin Agency and speak with an agent from our sales team. 

A Q&A With Emily Esfahani Smith, Lavin Speaker and Author of The Power of Meaning

Meaning, not happiness, is the key to a good life. That’s the vital message at the core of Emily Esfahani Smith’s book, The Power of Meaning, an essential guide to living a life that matters, as well as her popular TED talk—viewed over 7 million times—and her viral Atlantic article. In our recent chat with her, she explains how you can develop genuine cultures of meaning at work—and why you should.

What is your take on meaning as it relates to the workplace, to bosses and employees? Why does a company have to consider this in 2019? What’s the urgency?
Most people want and even expect their work to be meaningful. This is especially true of younger employees. As Studs Turkel wrote, “Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” And yet, most people are miserable at work. According to Gallup, 85 percent of employees are either not engaged—that is, they feel uninvolved, uncommitted, and unenthusiastic about it—or are “actively disengaged” from their work, and less than half of all workers feel satisfied with their jobs. But when people have meaning at work, research shows they are more engaged, more productive, and far likelier to stay at their organizations. They realize that their daily tasks, no matter how menial, are making a positive difference in the world— and that, research has found, is a very potent motivating force. As research by Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School has found, “Of all the events that can deeply engage people in their jobs, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.”
What happens if companies don’t consider meaning?
Employees are disengaged, unmotivated, more burned out, and more likely to leave. According to Gallup, one consequence of disengagement is $7 trillion in lost productivity across the world. By pursuing purpose, companies are also helping the bottom line. In their book Conscious Capitalism, John Mackey of Whole Foods and Raj Sisodia of Babson College point out that purpose-driven firms that create cultures of meaning among their employees, customers, and society at large are on the rise, and they are  financially outperforming their peers. That’s in part because consumers are seeking them out. As Sisodia has written with his colleagues, “People are increasingly looking for higher meaning in their lives, rather than simply looking to add to the store of the things they own.” 
What do leaders need to know about meaning?
If they help their employees see how their work is meaningful, they will have more motivated and engaged employees who will do better work for them, feel better about the company, and be an asset to their firms. Also, there are tangible things that leaders can do to help, like telling redemptive/growth-oriented stories about the work everyone is doing or a setback a team experienced, and making sure that employees are connected to the positive impact of their work when possible. Wharton's Adam Grant has conducted research with colleagues showing that when people clearly see the positive impact of their work, they become more productive. In my book, I tell the story of Life is Good, which does this well: it shares at employee meetings the letters that customers send in, saying things like, “wearing your shirts helped me get through chemotherapy,” for example.
What do individual employees need to know about meaning?
People are increasingly turning to work as a source of meaning. They expect their jobs to fill them with passion. They expect to find their one-true calling at work. But the truth is, only one-third of people see their work as a calling, according to research by Yale's Amy Wrzesniewski and her colleagues. And that's ok: Just because we don't all feel burning passion toward what we do doesn't mean we still can't find meaning in the work we do.  In other words, there's a midway point between feeling like your work is a calling and feeling like your job is just a job. The way to find meaning in your work is by harnessing what I call the four pillars of meaning at work: belonging, purpose, transcendence, and storytelling. For belonging, a study of hospital cleaners by Wrzesniewski, Jane Dutton, and Gelaye Debebe shows how little moments of connection between staff make employees feel like their work is more meaningful. To build more purpose at work, (1) connect your day-to-day tasks to the larger goal of the organization (like helping clients or healing the sick) or to your own larger goals (growth, learning) and (2) adopt a service mindset. That is, remember how what you do serves others, whether it's your clients or your family whom you are supporting.
In terms of innovation and creativity—and generally getting the best out of employees—how does meaning fit in?
If people feel unmotivated at work, burned-out, existentially empty, like what they do doesn't matter, they are not going to be in the proper frame of mind to be innovative and creative. In my research for my book The Power of Meaning, I found that people were able to be the most creative and innovative when the work they were doing was meaningful to them. Also, the pillars can help people tap into their reserves of innovation and creativity. Storytelling is all about seeing old facts in new ways, i.e. interpreting the data in new and different ways. And transcendent experiences can realign the way we think to open up new avenues of thought that lead to innovation and creativity.
What is it you want to leave each employee thinking about differently?
I want them to feel empowered to craft meaning for themselves in their work, no matter what they do or where they work. Some people think that you have to work at a certain place or in a certain job to find meaning, but the truth is that we can find meaning in nearly any role we're in, depending on the mindset we adopt. With the stories and research I present, I want to give employees the tools to adopt a meaning mindset in their work.


To book Emily Esfahani Smith for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency, her exclusive speakers bureau.