Why Success Is Not Enough: Rethinking How to Live Well with Arianna Huffington [Book Review]
In order to be successful, you have to work harder than everyone else, be constantly available on your phone, sleep less if necessary, and multi-task like crazy, right? Maybe not. In Thrive, Arianna Huffington writes that this approach is harmful, to individuals and also to the profitability of companies and economies. Her book argues that we need to change how we measure success: a person who is wealthy and influential but unhappy and burnt out should not be seen as successful. Thrive shows how developing wisdom, wonder, wellbeing, and a capacity for giving to others are vital components of a truly successful life.
Why We Need a Third Metric
Thrive opens with Huffington’s account of a moment that shifted her perspective. She had collapsed from exhaustion, and was re-evaluating her life. She had ticked the boxes of success, but was drained and unhappy and not leading a fulfilling existence. Huffington realised that our society and our workplace cultures value success, measured by money and influence, above all else, but that happiness is not included in the equation. Success should not be premised on overwork and burnout, worn as badges of pride. Success at the cost of our health and wellbeing should no longer be considered success at all. Thrive argues that we need a third measure – a Third Metric – for living a flourishing life. Huffington suggests that this concept should become the basis of corporate culture, not just a nice-to-have extra. Thrive is a powerful challenge to invert the way we think and talk about work.
The Third Metric Pillar 1: Wellbeing
Contemporary Western culture places stress, burnout, and outworking everyone else as preconditions for success. It is expected that you will have to sacrifice just about everything to get to the top. Short on time, we cut out the things that really nourish us: exercise, downtime, connection with others. Huffington draws together research showing how stress and burnout is bad for business, and that the inverse is also true: healthy employees perform better.
How does Huffington suggest we get there?
1. Meditation and mindfulness have been shown to improve mental and physical health. There are many forms of meditation, but at its most basic it is training your mind to be present in the moment. This can be done by finding a quiet place and focussing on your breath, for a few minutes each day.
2. Disconnect from the online world. We are constantly online, connecting, and this disrupts our focus, interrupts our thoughts and conversations, and undermines our ability to connect with those around us. Create boundaries around your device usage and explore apps that can help to do so.
3. Sleep more. Sleeping enough boosts productivity, creativity and decision-making – virtually all aspects of our performance. The benefits of getting 7.5-9 hours of sleep a night are hard to overstate. Sleep tips:
- Make sleep a non-negotiable appointment with yourself. Schedule it in.
- No devices or screens at night. At. All. Artificial light makes the brain think it’s day-time.
- Cut down on caffeine after 2pm and don’t drink alcohol before bed.
4. Move! Jog, dance, stretch, or just walk more. Have walking meetings if you can. Walking helps us slow down, enjoy the scenery, move our bodies, and allows new thinking to emerge.
5. Be close to animals. Interacting with a pet enables us to “expand the boundaries of our love”, improves self-esteem and reduces feelings of loneliness. Pets love unconditionally and can teach us to do the same.
The Third Metric Pillar 2: Wisdom
We live in a world of information and data, where real knowledge is scarce. Huffington suggests that we are disconnected from our deep inner knowing, and our ability to learn. Grace is a way of approaching the world as our classroom, of finding something beautiful and worthy in every experience. First we have to identify what is truly important. This enables us to filter the noise and find stillness within the chaos and clamour of life. Grace is about cultivating a centred place of peace and assurance, and practicing returning to that place, even in times of adversity. We equip ourselves to learn from everything, developing wisdom. This can be done by:
1. Allowing and accepting your own emotions without judgement. This is the first step to vulnerability, the only place from which we can build strength.
2. Gratitude. We can practice grace by remembering the things we have to be grateful for, no matter how tiny. Over time we nurture our sense of well-being in this way, and are better able to withstand shocks.
Intuition is the inner voice of each person: that hunch, or feeling, that we sometimes get. Yet we often choose to ignore it: it’s not rational, or it’s unclear and we don’t have time to consider the implications. Intuition is an adaptive unconscious process by which we filter information and arrive at conclusions: it can be a tremendously effective way to make decisions if we learn to listen. In order to “hear” our inner voice, we need to clear space for it to emerge. This means practicing being quiet, centred, and patient.
Enemies of wisdom: over-connection, time famine and negativity
We are always connected to information, but this doesn’t help us answer life’s big questions. We are preoccupied with photographing and sharing our experiences on social media to the extent that we don’t actually experience them in the moment. Time famine is feeling that we are constantly short of time even though we’re always saving it, rushing through meals, conversations and commutes. The combination increases stress and undermines our ability to listen to our intuition and find grace in each moment. Finally, we have negative self-talk that reiterates that we are not enough. These habits are powerful and breaking them is serious challenge. Huffington suggests the following:
- Slow down: take a leaf from The Slow Movement and slow down where you can: slow down how you eat, parent, love, garden, travel, and inhabit your city.
- Evict the “obnoxious room-mate”: find alternatives to the negative voice in your head. Iterate a calming phrase to yourself to replace harsh thoughts.
- Let go of habits that don’t work and replace them. Identifying a “keystone habit” that sets the others in motion is important. Ask others to keep you accountable.
The Third Metric Pillar 3: Wonder
Children go through life filled with wonder at the smallest things, yet as adults we don’t know quite how. In secular times we still need to acknowledge and connect with our spirituality and our souls. Huffington argues that relearning this is about an inner journey of exploration to find our purpose, which is linked to our ability to love. It is this quality of humanity which informs art, which is why art is such an important source of wonder. Huffington also notes that death is an essential part of life and being human, yet we distance ourselves from it and avoid thinking about it. If we can engage with our mortality we stand a better chance of living in the present and appreciating it. To tap into your capacity for wonder, Thrive suggests:
1. Seek art or nature (or both). Find something that fills you with wonder, and give it your entire attention. Return to this image when you need it.
2. Find silence: in your daily life and by taking retreats or holidays.
3. Appreciate coincidences. Separate events that are suddenly connected reveal a glimpse into the mystery of life and the possibility of a grander scheme: embrace them and ponder them.
4. Contemplate death: the possibility of your own death, the universality of death as something we all share, and be mindful of how precious life is.
The Third Metric Pillar 4: Giving
If we take the three W’s of the Third Metric on board, we accept that a personal shift is required in the way we live our individual lives. Huffington goes further: without giving and extending compassion to others, we will not Thrive fully. As a society we need a “collective wake-up call” that leaving it up to politicians to fix social problems is not enough: we each need to contribute. Giving simply means giving of your time and energy, or your money, or your talents, to improve the lives of others, be it materially or immaterially. Giving benefits the giver too: it shifts our focus from the things we are pursuing, things we don’t have, to the things we do have. It activates our sense of abundance, and grows our compassion.
1. Start small, and build habits of kindness and giving. Notice how this affects you.
2. Extend compassion and personal connection to people you normally wouldn’t interact much with, or take for granted: service staff and attendants.
3. Use a gift or skill that you have (bookkeeping, singing, baking, fixing things) to help someone who could benefit from it. Notice how this bring your own abundance into view.
Thrive: Clues to a Fuller Recipe for Happiness and Success
Much of the material presented in Thrive is not particularly new or ground-breaking: get more sleep, take time off, appreciate the little things, and remember to give. The book is a patient exploration of things we already know, but that’s what makes it useful: it gives us an entry-point to rediscovering and practicing the latent fullness of each of our lives. Thrive challenges us to rethink success and take seriously the pursuit of happiness through developing our well-being, wisdom, wonder, and ability to give.