Arianna Huffington: "It's not all about money and power"
Arianna Huffington is founder and former owner of The Huffington Post. Her new book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Happier Life is out now.
What’s wrong with the current definition of success?
Our definition of success right now is based almost solely on money and power. And so to succeed, we lead lives of overwork, sleep-deprivation and burnout. These are actually considered badges of honor! We voluntarily drive ourselves into the ground, if not the grave.
This idea of success can work—or at least appear to work—in the short term. But over the long term, money and power by themselves are like a two-legged stool—you can balance on them for a while, but eventually you’re going to topple over. It’s no longer sustainable: not for individuals, companies, societies or our planet.
What we really value, what really makes us happy, what really makes us thrive, is out of sync with how we live our lives and what we spend our time doing. And so we urgently need some new blueprints to reconcile the two. To live the lives we truly want and deserve, and not just the lives we settle for, we need a Third Metric, a third measure of success that goes beyond the two metrics of money and power, and consists of four pillars: well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving.
What made you aware of this issue?
My own personal wakeup call began very abruptly on April 6, 2007. The first thing I remember that morning is finding myself lying on the floor of my home office in a pool of blood. I had collapsed from exhaustion and lack of sleep. On my way down, my head had hit the corner of my desk, cutting my eye and breaking my cheekbone.
In the next few days, I learned that doctors’ waiting rooms are good places to think. I had time —finally—to ask myself the sorts of questions that have been asked by philosophers throughout the ages. The Greeks asked what is a good life? But in the last few centuries, instead of continuing to ask ourselves these valuable questions, we started acting as if the good life is simply about more money and more power.
So I asked myself, is this the life I really want? What kind of success am I after?
Having founded the Huffington Post two years earlier, I was working eighteen hours a day, seven days a week. And it was working, according to traditional measures of success. But I was not living a successful life by any truly sane definition. My life, I realized, was out of control. I was not thriving.
What changes did you make in your life as a result of that experience?
I adopted some daily practices to keep me on track. I renewed my estranged relationship with sleep—and, in fact, I became a sleep evangelist.
All these changes started adding up, and I couldn’t help but notice how out of sync it was with our work culture.
I began to realize that if you want to live a balanced life, you have to fight to do it. But I also noticed that the people who were genuinely thriving in their lives were the ones who had made room for well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving.
Why are you so passionate about sleep?
Sleep, or how little we get, has become a symbol of our prowess. I once had dinner with a man who bragged to me that he’d gotten only four hours of sleep the night before. I resisted the temptation to tell him that the dinner would have been a lot more interesting if he had gotten five.
Yet there’s a reason why sleep deprivation is classified as a form of torture, and why it’s a very common, and successful, strategy used by cults. Sleep deprivation reduces our emotional intelligence, self-esteem, sense of independence, empathy, positive thinking, and impulse control. Of course, sleep deprivation is also associated with stress and higher risk of a host of illnesses, like heart disease.
Sleep is a feminist issue, because of all the sleep-deprived Americans, women are the most fatigued.
Talk a bit about the importance of mindfulness.
While the world provides plenty of flashing, high-volume signals directing us to make more money and climb higher up the ladder, there are almost no worldly signals reminding us to stay connected to the essence of who we are, to take care of ourselves, to reach out to others, to pause to wonder, and to connect to that place from which everything is possible. Mindfulness makes us aware of our lives as we’re living them. And the world is practically begging us to not be aware of living, to not see, to not connect, and to not engage.
For those who still think of meditation and mindfulness as exotic imports, Western traditions of prayer and contemplation, or philosophies like Stoicism, from my home country, fulfill many of the same purposes. It gives us a heightened sense of being alive, of living our lives.
One change you made to your life was to start walking more, which seems pretty basic.
Walking is one easy way to tap into our creativity, wisdom, and wonder. We sit still and our minds want to ramble. Get up and start walking, and our minds can slow down and be more focused.
Now that we know what the solution is, how do we put that knowledge into action?
Turning our knowledge and wisdom into action doesn’t require much. It doesn’t matter what your entry point is; Eastern traditions don’t have a monopoly on tapping into our wisdom. In fact, you don't have to use any spiritual tradition at all to enjoy the benefits of mindfulness. If you don’t want to start with meditation, or prayer, or contemplation, go fly fishing.
We know we thrive when we keep in mind that life is shaped from the inside out—a truth celebrated by spiritual teachers, poets, and philosophers throughout the ages, and now validated by science.
I’ve been closing some of my talks by saying, “Upward, onward and inward.” It’s going in—the inward—that makes upward and onward possible. So, yes, go upward and onward, but don’t forget inward.