Founder of the Huffington Post, president and editor in chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, and author of 14 books, Arianna Huffington is a worldwide leader who empowers women to achieve their goals and aspirations. Prompted by a series of personal health-related events, Thrive was written to encourage society to redefine its ideal of success and change the way it thinks, works and lives.
Darling interviewed Huffington to discuss Thrive and how we as women can create a life of well-being, wisdom and wonder.
Darling Magazine: Tell us why Thrive was written and how you chose the title of the book.
Arianna: Thrive was prompted by my painful wakeup call. On the morning of April 6, 2007, I was lying on the floor of my home office in a pool of blood. On my way down, my head had hit the corner of my desk, cutting my eye and breaking my cheekbone. I had collapsed from exhaustion and lack of sleep. In the wake of my collapse, I found myself going from doctor to doctor, from brain MRI to CAT scan to echocardiogram, to find out if there was any underlying medical problem beyond exhaustion. There wasn’t, but doctors’ waiting rooms, it turns out, were good places for me to ask myself a lot of questions about the kind of life I was living.
We founded The Huffington Post in 2005, and two years in we were growing at an incredible pace. I was on the cover of magazines and had been chosen by Time as one of the world’s 100 Most Influential People. But after my fall, I had to ask myself, Was this what success looked like? Was this the life I wanted? I was working eighteen hours a day, seven days a week, trying to build a business, expand our coverage, and bring in investors. But my life, I realized, was out of control. In terms of the traditional measures of success, which focus on money and power, I was very successful. But I was not living a successful life by any sane definition of success. I knew something had to radically change. I could not go on that way. The title of the book reflects my belief that our goal, as individuals and as a society, should be not just to succeed but to thrive.
In terms of the traditional measures of success, which focus on money and power, I was very successful. But I was not living a successful life by any sane definition of success.
DM: Why did you determine the four pillars—well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving—as the successes to living a fulfilled life?
Arianna: First, well-being: If we don’t redefine what success is, the price we pay in terms of our health and well-being will continue to rise, as I found out in my own life. And when we include our own well-being in our definition of success, another thing that changes is our relationship with time. When we’re living a life of what Harvard professor Leslie Perlow calls “time famine,” we rob ourselves of our ability to experience another key element of the Third Metric: wonder, our sense of delight in the mysteries of the universe, as well as the everyday occurrences and small miracles that fill our lives.
And then there is the third indispensable W in redefining success: wisdom. Wherever we look around the world, we see smart leaders—in politics, in business, in media— making terrible decisions. What they’re lacking is not IQ, but wisdom. Which is no surprise; it has never been harder to tap into our inner wisdom, because in order to do so, we have to disconnect from all our omnipresent devices— our gadgets, our screens, our social media— and reconnect with ourselves.
And the last element to the Third Metric of success is the willingness to give of ourselves, prompted by our empathy and compassion. If well-being, wisdom, and wonder are our response to a personal wake-up call, service naturally follows as the response to the wake-up call for humanity.
DM: Explain why gazelles are your role models.
Arianna: They run and flee when there is a danger— a leopard or a lion approaching— but as soon as the danger passes, they stop and go back to grazing peacefully without a care in the world. But human beings cannot distinguish between real dangers and imagined ones. As Mark Williams, a psychology professor at Oxford, explains, “The brain’s alarm signals start to be triggered not only by the current scare, but by past threats and future worries … So when we humans bring to mind other threats and losses, as well as the current scenario, our bodies’ fight-or-flight systems do not switch off when the danger is past. Unlike the gazelles, we don’t stop running.”
DM: You encourage professionals to “sleep their way to the top.” Please expand on this mentality.
Arianna: The most basic shift we can make in redefining success in our lives has to do with our strained relationship to sleep. Our creativity, ingenuity, confidence, leadership, and decision-making can all be enhanced simply by getting enough sleep. By sleeping more we, in fact, become more competent and in control of our lives. Women have already broken glass ceilings in Congress, space travel, sports, business, and the media— imagine what we can do when we’re all fully awake!
Unless you are one of the wise few who already gets all the rest you need, you have an opportunity to immediately improve your health, creativity, productivity, and sense of well-being. Start by getting just thirty minutes more sleep than you are getting now. The easiest way is to go to bed earlier, but you could also take a short nap during the day — or a combination of both.
DM: Turning dreams and aspirations into full-time professions can be difficult for many of us. But in the Giving chapter of Thrive, you exhort readers: “Don’t squash your creative instincts because you’re not “good enough” to turn what you love to do into a career.”
Arianna: Yes, we tend to identify creativity with artists and inventors, but, in fact, creativity is in each and every one of us as David Kelley, the founder of the world-famous design firm Ideo and the d.school at Stanford University, writes in Creative Confidence, a book he coauthored with his brother Tom. We simply need to claim it back and share it. We are too quick to censor or judge our natural creative impulses as not being good enough. But we need to give ourselves permission to follow what makes us feel most alive.
… we need to give ourselves permission to follow what makes us feel most alive.
DM: How can women live well-rounded lives while equally pursuing both their professional and personal dreams?
Arianna: For far too long we have been operating under a collective delusion that burning out is the necessary price for achieving success. This couldn’t be less true. For me, the change came when I understood that not only is there no tradeoff between living a well-rounded life and high performance, but performance is actually improved when our life becomes more balanced.
I have twelve steps I recommend, and each one of us needs to pick the step that most resonates with us. Here are just three of the twelve:
- Have a specific time at night when you regularly turn off your devices — and gently escort them out of your bedroom. Disconnecting from the digital world will help you reconnect to your wisdom, intuition, and creativity. And when you wake up in the morning, don’t start your day by looking at your smartphone. Take one minute — trust me, you do have one minute — to breathe deeply, or be grateful, or set your intention for the day.
- Introduce five minutes of meditation into your day. Eventually, you can build up to fifteen or twenty minutes a day (or more), but even just a few minutes will open the door to creating a new habit— and all the many proven benefits it brings.
- Drop something that no longer serves you. I did a major “life audit” when I turned forty, and I realized how many projects I had committed to in my head— such as learning German and becoming a good skier and learning to cook. Most remained unfinished, and many were not even started. Yet these countless incomplete projects drained my energy and diffused my attention. As soon as the file was opened, each one took a little bit of me away. It was very liberating to realize that I could “complete” a project by simply dropping it— by eliminating it from my to-do list. Why carry around this unnecessary baggage? That’s how I completed learning German and becoming a good skier and learning to cook and a host of other projects that now no longer have a claim on my attention.
Purchase Arianna’s book, Thrive, here.
Book design by Lauren Dong; Jacket design by Rex Bonomelli; Jacket Photography by Carlos Serrao