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Nataly Kogan couldn’t be, well, happier about her keynote speaker gig for a fundraiser for River Bend Foodbank in Davenport.

The CEO and founder of Happier Inc., a global technology and learning platform, Kogan wrote “Happier Now: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Embrace Everyday Moments.”

And she knows all too well what it’s like to be hungry.

“When my speaking agent booked for this, I thought, ‘I’m so excited!’" she said. “I speak a lot, but I don’t always get excited about it.”

Kogan came to the United States as a refugee from Soviet Russia when she was 13.

On May 21, 1989, she and her parents decided to escape to the United States.

“To this day, when I get hungry, there is a part of me that remembers those refugee settlements and being hungry,” she said.

“We came to the United States and lived on welfare for a year. We got food donations from an organization called Hadassah," the Women's Zionist Organization of America, an American Jewish volunteer women's organization.

Her family shared an apartment with another immigrant family. After the rent was paid, there was often little left over for food, and she went hungry. 

“To me, to my core, I have connection to this cause. I have been that person who is hungry and can’t solve that problem. Imagine what it was like for my parents."

When Kogan’s daughter, 14, says she’s hungry, Kogan says, “Let’s get a snack.”

Every year, Kogan’s family does a walk for hunger in Boston. 

“We cannot even think about our emotional health unless our physical needs are taken care of. When you’re hungry, you can’t think about anything else. I consider it such an honor to be able to support this cause.”

Kogan, 43, will talk about her perspective on emotional health and happiness at the fundraiser.

“Happiness is a skill,” she said. “It’s not always easy to get people to prioritize their emotional health. It’s very easy to put ourselves last.”

Her company is focused on a couple of areas, she said, including Happier @ Work. “We go into companies and organizations of all kinds and do interactive workshops around (happiness) skills.”

Employees learn the skills together, and it significantly improves the work culture, she said.

“We’ve piloted it with several companies, and the feedback was incredible. It gives us an opportunity to reach people where we’re all spending so much time,” she said.

Research directly ties workplace cultures of gratitude to profits, she said.

“When we work in a company that has human-centered culture, we communicate better with our clients and deliver better customer service. It’s all contagious,” she said. “If you feel cared for and respected, it comes forward in your communications.”

Kogan is creating different ways for individuals to go deep on the five core happier skills, and also is working on some intensive retreats.

Her big goal has remained the same since she began Happier five years ago: to teach millions of people, organizations and companies the science-based skills to improve their emotional health and thrive.

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Film critic/reporter since 1985 at Quad-City Times. Society of Professional Journalists, Broadcast Film Critics Association and Alliance of Women Film Journalists member. Member of St. Mark Lutheran Church.