Arianna Huffington’s new book, Thrive, is explained by its subtitle: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-being, Wisdom, and Wonder. In a commencement speech she gave at Smith College last year, Ms. Huffington likened money and power to two legs of a three-legged stool: With only those two, sooner or later you will fall off. Falling is exactly what happened to her, in fact: a few years before, overcome by exhaustion, she collapsed and suffered a nasty gash and broken cheekbone. This incident was a personal wake-up call, causing a re-evaluation of her schedule and its attendant stresses and pressures.
Born in Greece in 1950, Ms. Huffington has been called “the most upwardly mobile Greek since Icarus,” whose story, the classic cautionary tale against over-ambition, she retells here. Though raised with the myths as personal roots rather than ancient history, Huffington also benefited from the example of her mother, a woman who practiced yoga and meditation and who knew the value of not hurrying through life. Somewhere along the way, in the process of winning a scholarship to Cambridge, running for governor of California, and creating a media empire, she forgot the valuable lessons learned in her childhood.
Thrive is Ms. Huffington’s attempt to return to this wisdom of her mother’s, as well as to many other valuable insights drawn from everywhere from ancient religions to the latest research into what makes human beings prosper physically and emotionally, while quoting sources as disparate as Archimedes and Carrie Fisher. In her estimation, the third “metric” of success comprises four important aspects: well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving. All four must be nourished and cultivated in order to lead a truly vibrant life.
In the course of describing how she seeks to lead a vibrant life, Huffington comes over and over again to the same idea: “how we play [the game of life] . . . will be determined by what we value.”
“Onward, upward, and inward” were the closing words of her Smith commencement speech, and in this book she details the ways in which she learned to focus inward in order to restore balance in her life. For example, in her section on well-being, Huffington reports on the latest research demonstrating that “happiness (is) not a trait . . . but a skill.” States of unhappiness and poor health are both very much within our power to improve, or even reverse. One study estimates that “70% of health care costs are driven by people’s behaviors.” Unhealthy behaviors, if flagged and changed early enough, can be transformed into healthier ones and a lifelong improvement can be achieved. She devotes considerable attention to describing the ways that healthy eating, exercise, rest, and meditation can lead to radical changes in people’s lives.
While well-being is clearly the cornerstone of the Thrive manifesto, the other three aspects are equally important. How does one achieve wisdom or a sense of wonder? Huffington offers detailed instructions on the importance of things like intuition, coincidence, and gratitude in cultivating one’s inner strength. She cites the research on happiness, for example, which consistently points to two factors that invariably improve people’s lives: connectivity with others, and giving. Giving, even in the smallest ways, reliably leads to greater well-being, and Huffington offers many ideas for how to include more unselfish and giving acts in our lives.
Talking openly about her own journey, drawing on the examples of others she has known and interviewed, the author wants us to know that our lives are works in progress and we can control both their direction and their quality:
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life.
“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight between two wolves. One is evil—he is anger, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
He continued, “The other is good—he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you—and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute, and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Feed the good wolf; it and you will thrive.