Arianna Huffington’s hard-charging career as a media pioneer has come at a cost. In 2007, she collapsed from exhaustion, briefly lost consciousness, and broke her cheekbone from the fall. That’s when she decided she needed to change her life—to redefine what success looked like, and to prioritize well-being and meaning over achievement.
Of course, being Arianna Huffington, she’s still managed to achieve plenty. But as the author of 15 books to date, the CEO of Thrive Global, and a popular speaker on stages around the world, she’s now focused on sharing the insight that happiness comes from within, and that accomplishment and self-care can go hand-in-hand. In her book Thrive, she offers practical tips you can use to create what she calls “a life of well-being, wisdom, and wonder.”
Read on for five key insights from Thrive. To listen to the audio version of this Book Bite, download the Next Big Idea App today.
1. Redefine success.
When Huffington started publicly reckoning with her own burnout and the extreme physical stress brought on by her work habits, she learned she was not alone. Around the world, she has found people clamoring to lead happier lives by establishing healthier relationships with their work.
One law student Huffington profiles, Kim Farbota, woke up one day and collapsed. She found she was suffering from a slew of health complications brought on by neglecting her body as she put herself through the rigors of law school. Ultimately, Farbota had to reevaluate her priorities and adjust how she was living her life. And strangely, she found that as she focused on taking better care of herself, she actually started doing better in school, even though she wasn’t putting in the intense hours she had been before her collapse.
Huffington wants us to recognize that redefining success doesn’t have to mean putting your career on the back burner. In fact, the reverse is true. Through reimagining what it means to be successful, people are both taking better care of themselves and improving their job performance.
“Redefining success doesn’t have to mean putting your career on the back burner. In fact, the reverse is true.”
And Huffington isn’t the only one thinking about this—there’s a growing trend among researchers, employers, and educators to focus on the well-being of their students and employees. Institutions from higher education to investment banking are making efforts to promote healthier lifestyles. But not everyone is on board, as evidenced by the fact that according to the U.S. Travel Association, over 40 percent of Americans don’t use all of their paid vacation days.
Success doesn’t have to mean working the longest hours, sleeping the least, or being the most stressed out. Instead, success should mean living a balanced and meaningful life.
2. Get more sleep.
Sleep is often the first thing that gets deprioritized in the relentless pursuit of career success. In 2010, Arianna Huffington and Cindi Leive, then Editor-in-Chief of Glamour, made a joint New Year’s Resolution to get more sleep every night. They found that sleeping just half an hour more helped them think more clearly, work more effectively, and experience less anxiety.
The data validates their results. Numerous researchers have studied the importance of sleep and found that increased sleep is linked to improved physical and mental health. One study from Harvard Medical School found that sleep loss directly correlated with less effective work, and another out of Duke University found an inverse relationship between sleep and heart disease.
So how should you go about getting more sleep? Huffington lays out a few helpful suggestions: Turn off your technology and keep it away from your bed, so that you’re not tempted to look at it in the middle of the night. Invest in a new pillow and some new pajamas that will be comfortable and signal to your body that you’re getting ready to go to sleep. Sleep in a cool, dark room. Take a warm bath before bed. Schedule your bedtime, and set an alarm to go off when it’s time for bed. Huffington credits these strategies with helping her finally get enough sleep. If you simply can’t fit in any more time at night, even a quick nap during the day can help give your brain the reset it needs to perform at its highest capacity.
“One study from Harvard Medical School found that sleep loss directly correlated with less effective work, and another out of Duke University found an inverse relationship between sleep and heart disease.”
Start tonight—go to bed 30 minutes earlier than you normally would. See if you can keep it up all week, and then all month. Pay attention to how you feel. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself starting to wake up before your alarm—that just means you’re finally well-rested.
3. Take care of your mind.
You’ve probably heard talk about the benefits of meditation; it’s said that the practice can help you live a less stressful and more grounded and mindful life. But starting and maintaining a meditation practice can be daunting, so Huffington offers simple advice that can bring the benefits of meditation to your everyday life—without you having to go off on silent retreats for weeks at a time.
Try it for just five minutes. Pay attention to your breathing, and start noticing what happens to the air in your body as you breathe in and out. When your thoughts start to wander, take note of what is happening and patiently remind yourself to focus on your breathing; consider repeating a word or phrase aloud or in your head to keep yourself focused. You can also try incorporating meditation into your regular daily habits. For instance, focus on your breathing while doing routine tasks such as brushing your teeth or washing the dishes. Meditation is also useful as a tool for dealing with moments of stress. When you find yourself feeling stressed out, take a moment to focus on how your hands and feet feel, and take a few deep breaths. Focusing on your body in this way can help you ground yourself, and has been proven to be a great stress-buster for everyone from CEOs to professional athletes.
By quieting your mind in this way, Huffington suggests, you’re also better able to access your own inner wisdom. Often, you already know the solution to some problem that’s bothering you—but your busy, racing, technology-soaked mind is too distracted to notice it. By paying attention to your body and creating some stillness in your mind, you can access the hidden power of your own intuition.
“Often, you already know the solution to some problem that’s bothering you—but your busy, racing, technology-soaked mind is too distracted to notice it.”
4. Pause to marvel at the world around you.
When Huffington’s daughter Isabella was in college majoring in art history, she was given an assignment. She was told to look at a single painting for two straight hours. Keeping her attention on a single piece of art for such an extended period of time was incredibly challenging, but it allowed Isabella to notice things about the painting that she never would have if she had been observing it quickly or in passing. Huffington describes her daughter’s experience to make the point that by rushing through life in pursuit of achievement, we deprive ourselves of tremendous amounts of beauty and wonder.
Wonder can be found in nature, in museums (like it was for Isabella), or even in everyday life. One unexpected source of wonder is the quirky coincidences that happen to us regularly. Researchers and authors Martin Plimmer and Brian King found that people who are most aware of coincidences are also the happiest and most confident, because they allow themselves to experience awe, marveling at the way the world works.
To reignite your own sense of wonder, Huffington suggests visualizing a place that brought you joy, either in childhood or as an adult. Visit that place again. Let yourself be amazed by the world as a child is.
5. Give back to your community.
During the divisive 2012 presidential campaign, the response to the Hurricane Sandy disaster united people across party lines. Volunteering to support communities in need brought people together in a moment of political division.
“Short of time? Donate some money. Short of money? Donate some time.”
Huffington advocates for volunteering because of just this phenomenon. Giving back brings people together and transcends artificial lines of difference. One study by Harvard Business School found that donating money to charity has a similar effect on a person’s sense of their own well-being as doubling their salary. These results are persuasive—giving back to your community will increase your own happiness, and help you feel connected to the people around you.
Short of time? Donate some money. Short of money? Donate some time. There are countless ways to give, but Huffington maintains that it shouldn’t be a one-time thing. Making contribution a habit will increase your own sense of well-being and community belonging. You can even make it a social endeavor by organizing a group of friends or family to volunteer together.
Not sure how to get started? You can start by making small, kind gestures toward the people you interact with every day, like the cashier at the grocery store, your neighbor, or the crossing guard on your way to work. You’ll be amazed at the difference in your own happiness when you turn these small gestures into habits.
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