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Emily Esfahani Smith

The richest, most fulfilling lives are those led by a search for meaning—not the pursuit of happiness.

Journalist and Author of The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters

Contact Emily For Booking
Emily Esfahani Smith | Journalist and Author of The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

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, which outlines four pillars essential to living a life that matters: belonging, purpose, transcendence, and storytelling. From her popular TED main stage talk—viewed over 7 million times—to her viral Atlantic article “There’s More to Life Than Being Happy,” Smith helps us develop genuine cultures of meaning: both at work, and in our lives at large. 

“Combining cutting-edge research with storytelling, The Power of Meaning inspires us to zero in on what really matters.”

— Arianna Huffington

We’re all striving for happiness—but our culture’s obsession with instant gratification is only making us miserable. Drawing from over one hundred interviews, and years of research into positive psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy, Emily Esfahani Smith has discovered a more enriching way to live a good life: through the search for meaning. It’s the subject of her compelling and acclaimed book The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters: called “persuasive” and “elegant” by the Wall Street Journal, and “a life-transforming experience” by Susan Cain, it’s now been published in over 15 languages. In keynotes, Smith offers methods for individuals to let go of unreasonable, unattainable standards of happiness, and pursue goals that reward over the long haul. And for organizations, it means embedding a sense of purpose into corporate culture—making beliefs and values align for personal wellbeing as well as the bottom line.


“Beautifully written and rigorously researched, The Power of Meaning speaks to the yearning we all share for a life of depth and significance. In a culture constantly shouting about happiness, this warm and wise book leads us down the path to what truly matters. Reading it is a life-transforming experience.”

— Susan Cain

With a TED main stage talk listed as one of the top ten most popular of 2017—and currently viewed over 7 million times—Smith is a keynote speaker who helps us think differently about the stories we tell ourselves and help us identify what makes life worth living.

The former managing editor of The New Criterion, Smith’s articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and other publications. Her articles for The Atlantic “There’s More to Life Than Being Happy” (about the Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl) and “Masters of Love” (about romance and marriage) have reached over 30 million readers. In 2017, The New York Times published her article about rethinking success called “You’ll Never Be Famous—And That’s OK.” And her profile for the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine of Joe Rago, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who tragically died at the age of 34, was shortlisted for a Folio magazine award in 2018.


Smith is a reporter for the Aspen Institute’s Weave project, an initiative founded by The New York Times’ David Brooks to address the problems of isolation, alienation, and division. At Weave, Smith finds and tells the stories of people who are working to rebuild the social fabric. She served as an instructor in positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Smith graduated from Dartmouth College and earned a masters of applied positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. 


“Your time with us was brief but powerful for our community. Everyone I've spoken with has been deeply appreciative of the evening, and your wise, humble, warm presence. I hope you continue to pursue this, as we really do need to hear what you have to share. I hope we can welcome you back here again.”

The Jung Center

Speech Topics

Happiness & Wellness
Meaning at Work Creating Fulfillment and Transcending Tasks
We already know it’s unhealthy to live for our jobs, no matter how passionate about them we may be. But it’s equally unhealthy to work somewhere you feel stagnant, stressed or unchallenged. Studies have shown that as much as 85% of employees are either not engaged or “actively disengaged” from the work they do, and only one third of workers see their work as a calling. Yet most people—especially the younger generations—want to feel like what they do for a living has meaning: so why aren’t they?
To Emily Esfahani Smith, there’s a way for everyone to find professional and creative fulfillment through actively pursuing purpose, no matter their line of work. And finding out how is urgent: experts estimate that the one of the very tangible consequence of disengagement is a staggering $7 trillion in lost productivity. In this invigorating keynote, Smith explores what employers can do to electrify a static environment, and retain the talent they worked hard to bring on board in the first place—as well as the changes workers can make to feel intrinsically motivated, engaged, and fulfilled. It’s all about harnessing the four pillars of meaning at work: belonging, purpose, transcendence, and storytelling. When employees feel like what they’re doing matters—to the company, to the community, and to themselves—they’re more productive, innovative, and more likely to participate in—and create—a positive workplace culture: and Smith will show you how.
The Power of Meaning Making Your Life, Work, and Relationships Matter

To Emily Esfahani Smith, there’s more to life than happiness. But we won’t find it through chasing esoteric secrets, reading the latest self-help book, or following some cultural standard for ‘the good life.’ In fact, our culture’s relentless pursuit of status, wealth, and ‘happiness’ can actually have the opposite effect: loneliness, dissatisfaction, regret. Instead, says Smith, the key to living a richer, more fulfilling life is through the search for meaning


In this inspiring keynote, Smith presents the latest in psychology and neuroscience (as well as the wisdom of great philosophers) to help us live more satisfying lives. She unpacks what she calls the “four pillars of meaning”—belonging, purpose, storytelling, and transcendence—and how we can build some or all of these pillars in our lives and in our communities. Together, these pillars help us give back, deepen relationships, set purposeful goals, and make sense of who we are and our place in the world.


Ultimately, a meaningful life lies in connecting and contributing to ideas beyond yourself—whether it’s your family, your job, or humanity at large. Our most meaningful pursuits—from starting a business to mastering a musical instrument—require hard work, sacrifice, and long-term vision. We don’t necessarily do them to be happy; we do them because they’re meaningful. For individuals seeking something more, or for institutions looking to build a culture of meaning at work or school, Smith’s talk gives us the tool we need to build resiliency, gain a broader perspective, and truly deepen our lives.

Workshops & Interactive
Making Meaning An Interactive Workshop

We all need to find our tribe and forge relationships in which we feel understood, recognized, accepted, and valued—to know we matter to others. We can find belonging in our communities, in relationship to those we love, or with in micro-connections with strangers we encounter in daily life. Belonging lives in moments and is a choice: we can choose to cultivate belonging with others. In this interactive workshop, Emily Esfahani Smith puts theory in action, showing you and your team members how to cultivate meaning in real time. Leading a variety of research-based activities, Smith will give you the practical tools to interact with colleagues, support each others’ intentions, and find meaningful purpose in daily life—at home and at work.