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Thrive by Arianna Huffington, book review: Money, power and how to live a happier life
Thursday 27 March 2014
There were no psych-fix or self-improvement books on my shelves. Now there is one: Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Happier Life. Don't laugh. Never ridicule or underestimate this author, journalist, editor-in-chief, (ex) politician, America's biggest and busiest networker, entrepreneur, multimillionaire, spiritual, mental and health guru who looks just great and never has a bad hair day.
I present to you Arianna Huffington, (previously known as Arianna Stassinopoulou) a woman who has been gifted amazing powers of self-regeneration (and reinvention) by the Fates. Born in Greece in 1950, she migrated with her mum to Britain, got a scholarship to Cambridge and became, say some, "the most upwardly mobile Greek since Icarus". But unlike the recklessly ambitious Icarus she never burns out or melts down.
In the 70s, she hooked up with the cerebral Bernard Levin, wrote an anti-feminism book (The Female Woman) and won many, helpful male admirers. In the 80s she moved to the US, quickly made friends in high places, turned frightfully right wing, married Michael Huffington, a rich Republican who eventually confessed he was bisexual.
They parted but the surname stayed, opened doors. In 2003 she stood against Arnold Schwarzenegger for the governorship of California and lost. Two years later she founded the eponymous online Huffington Post (liberal, centre left) which was sold to AOL for $305m. It is now a global brand, read and taken seriously by readers, writers and unpaid bloggers.
This Greek goddess never fades, never regrets, always astounds and awes. The Greek word "arete" means excellence, effectiveness, living to one's full potential. Arianna is its embodiment.
In April 2007, she fainted and fell in her home office: "I was on the cover of magazines and had been chosen by Time as one of the 100 most influential people. After my fall, I had to ask myself, was this what success looked like?" No, dear Arianna, it's what middle-age feels like. But Ms Huffington didn't get to where she is by accepting inevitable life changes. She wrote this book.
So what is the "third metric"? There's this stool of life, you see. Two legs stand for the pursuit of money and power. The third is what humans apparently need to be fulfilled and stable. (And not fall over.) We must slow down, reflect, relish each moment, unplug devices and give: "[Gazelles] are my role models. They run and flee when there is a danger – a leopard or a lion approaching – but as soon as the danger passes they stop and go back to grazing without a care in the world."
We know vast ambitions can lead to mental disharmonies, stress and perpetual dissatisfaction. The world would be a better place if bosses and nations were not so greedy, were kinder to themselves and others.
However, Huffington's heroes reach this nirvana after they get rich and powerful. They don't leave or lose the rat race. Steve Jobs meditated and wanted a book by an old Indian yogi handed out at his memorial. And John F Kennedy took soothing naps. Huffington too goes on long, invigorating hikes, is keen on sleep and spirituality, values personal relationships. Ameliorated capitalism and soft power play is self-gratifying. It does not make the world more just or equal.
That said, the book offers persuasive arguments, is full of fascinating research, much fire and passion. Huffington draws people to her, commoners as well as captains of industry, the media, arts and cultural establishments. What gall an outsider, scorned for her outsiderness, shows them again and again. I wish she would choose me to be her new best friend.
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