psychology | March 03, 2017

Daniel Lerner: Can Success and Happiness Coexist?

Sometimes the measure of success comes down to how much mustard is on your lapel. Motivational speaker Daniel Lerner knows all too well, and has the dry-cleaning bills to prove it. The trick is in finding harmony between your passions, and knowing what you can’t live without.

For Brightworks’ 7th Annual Innovation Day, Lavin speaker Daniel Lerner took the stage at Toronto’s historic Design Exchange, a beautiful art deco building at King and Bay that reveals few traces of its former life as the Toronto Stock Exchange. Addressing the group of young, successful creatives, Lerner began by asking the crowd how many of them were interested in happiness.  


Hands—some poised high, some suspended at shoulder height—took to the air.

Lerner is, among other things, an expert on happiness and all that can get in its way. In his keynote, Lerner defined two types of passion: harmonious, and obsessive. When you’re harmoniously passionate, you not only love what you do, but you are more focused, energetic, and productive, and live a far more fulfilling life. Conversely, obsessive passions are marked by a compulsive, dogged pursuit of achievement, leading to guilt, shame, pessimism, unhappiness, and, far too often, early burnout. 


Drawing on a diverse cast of iconic cultural figures—from Richard Branson to Ellen DeGeneres, Steve Jobs to Maya Angelou—Lerner delineated healthy and dangerous passions, what that looks like, and how to reintroduce some measure of balance into your life. As he explained—a passion can take many forms, from reading, to spending time with your friends, to singing opera.

Daniel Lerner: Do What You Love. You’ll Achieve More.


Take the story of Earle Patriarco, a hopeful baritone-cum-pizza waiter whom Lerner represented as a talent agent more than 20 years ago.  At their first meeting, Lerner described how Patriarco shuffled up to him, a fresh glob of mustard on his lapel, and wrapped him in an enormous bear hug. Despite his apparent lack of deftness around condiments, Patriarco quickly rose to be an in-demand baritone at all the major opera houses in the world. But he put his family first, and continued to be the jocular (former) singing waiter who Lerner had been so taken by.


It was a touching conclusion to Lerner’s talk, Patriarco smiling down from the screen above Lerner’s head—Patron Saint of Harmonious Passion.


Lerner is a faculty member at New York University and part of the teaching staff at the University of Pennsylvania (where he works with the graduate program in Applied Positive Psychology). In the classroom and in his talks, Lerner integrates storytelling, humor, and science, helping students and executives apply his teachings into their lives with immediate benefit. His class “The Science of Happiness” is currently the largest and most popular non-required course at New York University—in great part due to the positive changes that students report throughout the semester. 


His first book U Thrive: How to Succeed in College (and Life), co-authored with Alan Schlechter, will be published in April 2017 by Little, Brown, and Company.


To book Daniel Lerner to speak with your organization, call or email The Lavin Agency today.