Thrive – The Third Metric To Redefine Success
Author: Arianna Huffington
Genre: Self Help, Memoirs
My boss, Umang Vohra, MD of Cipla, gave this book to me. He had read it, loved it and had gifted a copy to his leadership team.
Arianne is the quintessential achiever: founder of the famous Huffington Post (she sold it to AOL for US$315m), profiled as World’s Top 100 Most Influential People by Time, included by Fortune in Most Powerful Women list, included in Oprah Winfrey’s SuperSoul100 list of visionaries and influential leaders… But after working non stop 18 hours a day, seven days a week, one day she collapsed due to over exhaustion and sleep deprivation. This – probably along with challenges in her personal life (divorce with her congressman husband, daughter was a self-confessed drug addict, lost election to Arnold Schwarzenegger) – was her wake-up call and she asked herself the primordial question – “What really is a good life?”.
Her message: We need a Third Metric, beyond money and power, to measure success. And this is composed of 4 things: Well-being, Wisdom, Wonder, and Giving.
She explains how today we are so lost in chasing material success (even long after money and power have ceased to fulfil us) that we don’t stop and ask whether the incremental rewards are worth the cost. Our generation, which she calls HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired), is “bloated with information and starved for wisdom”. In today’s 24 hour digital age, “being connected in a shallow way to the entire world can prevent us to be deeply connected to those closest to us – including ourselves.”
I loved her Two Fundamental Truths. First, akin to the God inside us, “we all have within us a centred place of wisdom, harmony and strength”. Second “we are all going to veer away from that place again and again and again. That’s the nature of life.” But “the question is how quickly can we get back…”
Arianne’s pet peeve is the excessive digital connect that is making us lose contact with our inner self. All this stress has huge social and financial cost, often because in trying to do everything together, we have caused an artificial ‘time famine’. One insight: when something truly big happens is “the ease with which the big crises can wipe out the small ones that seemed so critical just a moment before”. She recommends mediation very highly, and we can see the Indian influence (she spent her youth exploring Osho Rajneesh movement) on her thinking. She is also a big fan of Sleeping well, at least 7 hours a day, and spends some time recounting all the studies showing the deep dangers of less sleep. As a high ranking member of the corporate juggernaut, she gives data to support all her advice (40 pages of footnotes!). Example: “eating more slowly leads to lower calorie consumption”, since brain only sends the “full stomach” signal 20 minutes after eating.
Dog lovers would love how we can reduce our stress by learning from dogs: “Dogs are minor angels.. they love unconditionally, forgive immediately, are the truest of friends, willing to do anything to make us happy… If any person had all these qualities, we will certainly call them angelic!”
Eating together as a family with all digital devices safely out of reach is an excellent suggestion and I have long practised this dinner ritual in my own home. It is the time we all get together to bond, relax and listen to each other.
Finally, overworking should be made a taboo and not a virtue. Per OECD data, Greece, Poland and Hungary were the top 3 in number of hours worked. Their productivity was however 18th, 24th and 25th (dead last). On the other hand, working the fewest hours were Dutch, Germans and Norwegians, who came in 4th, 7th and 1st in productivity!
Born in Greece, she recalls “Stoicism teaches us that unhappiness, negative emotions, and what we would today call stress, are not inflicted on us by external circumstances and events, but are, rather, the results of the judgements we make about what matters and what we value. To the stoics, the most secure kind of happiness could therefore be found in the only thing that we are in control of – our inner world.”
She also quotes logotherapy’s teaching promulgated by holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl: “We have little power to choose what happens, but we have complete power over how we respond.”
I liked her focus on living a calm life. “When I am in that bubble of grace, it doesn’t mean that the everyday things that used to bother, irritate, and upset me disappear; they don’t, but they no longer have the power to bother, irritate or upset me.” We have the power within us “to find peace and wisdom in the middle of a bustling marketplace”.
We can show this equanimity and grace even in the face of real suffering. As Nelson Mandela famously said after 27 years in prison, “As I walked out the door towards the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
Like Einstien’s famous “I have no special talent, I am only passionately curious”, she exhorts us to rekindle a child’s sense of wonder and strongly advocates museum visits (I concur – have consciously tried to take my daughters on various museums trips). “The museum experience provides us with mystery, wonder, surprise, self-forgetfulness – vital emotions most undermined by our always connected 24*7 culture.” And she goes on to add other art’s voices. “Music, sculpture, photography, cinema, architecture, literature, drama, poetry, dance – each can ignite the deeper truth, and awaken the sense of wonder that slumbers within us.”
She also recommends vacations into retreats, monasteries, temples to make room “for the soul to awaken”.
Contemplation of death also helps us better understand life. Since the world’s death rate is holding steady at 100%, we might as well give it some reflection time! Ancient Rome had a phrase, Memento Mori, which even triumphant commanders announced during victory parade, ‘Remember you are only mortal’.
Service is so powerful because it is a two-way street benefiting not just the receiver but also the giver. She recounts how her 5 year old daughter had a profound experience when she was volunteering and saw a poor girl having nothing for her birthday. “While we grow physically by what we get, we grow spiritually by what we give.” She also rattles multiple scientific studies showing that giving makes us happier. A Harvard Business School study, for example, found that “donating to charity has a similar relationship to subjective well-being as a doubling of household income.” Because “it is when we give that we feel most abundant. Giving sends a message to the universe that we have all we need.”
The book has some excellent quotations. Some of my favorite ones below:
“Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”
“For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way. Something to be got there first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.”
“We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.”
“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
Or a typical Rumi gem:
“You wander from room to room
Hunting for the diamond necklace
That is already around your name.”
“We have met the Enemy…and he is us!”
Or this old native Cherokee tale:
“A fight is going on inside everyone… between two wolves.
One is evil – anger, envy, greed, arrogance, inferiority, ego…
The other is good – joy, peace, love, hope, humility, empathy…”
Which wolf will win?
“The one you feed.”
Overall the author joins a horde of new age thinkers reminding us to think beyond the rat race (probably started with The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma.. read also my review of The Happiness Project by a very successful lawyer in search for true happiness). That the true north of our life should be Well-being or Wisdom is not debatable. At times, I did find her repetitive going on and on about the madness of today’s world (she is a prolific writer with 15 books to her credit). And her fetish with the deeper meaning of coincidences and even incarnation was too much for me personally (but then to each her own, who am I to judge). The final criticism is that all the people she quote started talking of the Third Metric after having achieved Money and Power. Much like Maslow’s hierarchy, only after achieving ‘all there is’, you start wondering ‘if that is all there is’.
Why should you read the book: To Thrive! If you are feeling tired and fed up, and asking “Is this all there is?”, you are ready to imbibe what really makes the good life. The lessons that Arianne offer resonate with what our forefathers taught us, and what modern science is discovering again in an ironic and deja vu moment: that if we follow the 4 mantras – Well-Being, Wisdom, Wonder and Giving – we will live a calmer and fuller life.