“The architecture of how we live our lives is badly in need of renovation and repair,” writes Arianna Huffington, founder of the media company the Huffington Post. “What we really value is out of sync with how we live our lives.” The reason, she argues in her new book called Thrive, is that success has come to be defined by two things: money and power.
To achieve money and power, men and women are living unsustainable, high-stressed, non-stop lives that physically destroy their bodies, leave little time for joy and reflection, and culminate in the realization that acquiring money and power is not the fulfilling quest of a life well lived. As former Merrill Lynch managing director Roseann Palmieri explains, “I’m at the table. I’ve made it. I’ve networked, I’ve clawed, I’ve said ‘yes,’ I’ve said ‘no,’ I’ve put in all this time and effort and I was underwhelmed. What I was getting back was not acceptable to me.”
For Huffington, the current success metrics of money and power are only two legs of a three-legged stool. Without a “third metric” based on well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving, our lives, like the defective stool, topple over, she writes. In the early pages of her book, she presents a range of evidence, from alarming health statistics to stories of highly “successful” yet unsatisfied people who left their careers, that proves the adverse impact on both men and women of today’s high-stress quest for money and power.
Huffington believes the path to the third metric will be especially blazed by the career women who find the current metrics of successful “not acceptable.” “If we’re going to redefine what success means,” she writes, “if we are going to include a Third Metric to success, beyond money and power, it’s going to be women who will lead the way – and men, freed of the notion that the only road to success includes taking the Heart Attack Highway to Stress City, will gratefully join both at work and at home.”
The Shimmer of Rain
Having made the case that a third metric of success is vital, Huffington then explores in four inspiring, information-packed chapters how to bring “well-being,” “wisdom,” “wonder” and “giving” back into our lives. Huffington – who recalls how her mother, who never went to college, “would still preside over long sessions in our small kitchen in Athens discussing the principles and teachings of Greek Philosophy to help guide my sister, Agapi, and me in our decisions and in our choices” – weaves ancient and modern philosophy, academic research, and stories and quotes of successful people, from the world-renowned to the ordinary ladder-climbers who realize that the view from the top is not enough to make the journey worthwhile.
The Experience of Wonder
The opening pages of her chapter on wonder are typical. Huffington begins with short anecdotes about experiencing a sense of wonder on a drive to an airport, as the falling rain “gave everything a beautiful, almost magical, shimmer.” At the airport, she hears everyone complaining about the rain: wonder is in the eye of the beholder. She offers a beautiful short poem on rain by Albert Huffstickler, then quickly moves the reader through discussions on the wonder of children (“Mommy, what makes it go?” one of her young daughters once asked as they watched the star-filled sky); the wonder at the root of spirituality, which is not religion; wonder as the connection between outer space and inner space; how photography interrupts wonder (“…by so-obsessively documenting our experiences, we never truly have them); the power of love, backed by a Harvard study; art museums as oases of wonder – all in the first six pages of a fascinating 45-page chapter.
The chapter ends, as with all her chapters, with three simple practices to help people live in the moment: when stressed, focus on the rising and falling of your breath for 10 seconds; pick an image that ignites joy in you, and go to it whenever you feel “contracted”; don’t judge yourself; don’t judge others; “then look at your life and the day ahead with newness and wonder.”
Thrive, as it should be, is a book to be savored. There is so much learning and wisdom in these pages that one might be tempted to take notes. But as with photography on a vacation, they would only interrupt the enjoyment of one of those books that everyone should have within reach at all times.
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