Arianna Huffington says that to thrive you should build your life around four pillars: well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving.
As billionaires soak up so much of the available money in society and will only soak up more in the future, many people question the purpose of working 70-hour weeks, damaging their health, and neglecting their spouses and kids. A growing number have concluded that they prefer a rich life – that third metric – to a life of riches, and they have backed out of the rat race, or at least turned in their numbered bibs. For them, and for many of today’s self-help and business authors, Arianna Huffington’s four pillars of life – “Well-Being, Wisdom, Wonder and Giving” – make a great deal of sense and offer a humanized approach to living a well-rounded life. They inform much of the online conversation today, up and down the class-and-earnings ladder.
The architecture of how we live our lives is badly in need of renovation and repair.Arianna Huffington
Huffington’s ideas are timeless, and she draws on timeless sources, such as the Sufi poet Rumi and the Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius. One measure of her commercial genius is that she convincingly aligns these sages of the ages with many contemporary issues. Recommending the thinking and work of Rumi, Aurelius, Gertrude Stein, David Foster Wallace, Goethe, Wordsworth and Aristotle to the bestseller-buying public is not a small feat. Give Huffington kudos for that. She also cites her spiritual sister, Agapi, and her mother, Elia, as inspirations. She attributes her sense of constant wonder and awe at every aspect of daily life to her mother, who discussed Greek philosophy with her daughters in the kitchen.
Well-Being, Wisdom, Wonder and Giving
Give Huffington credit, too, for an easy, compelling, persuasive style. As in her previous bestsellers, she writes in a light, breezy tone. She creates readable, memorable, well-argued prose with a lovely, elegant flow. The pages turn quickly, and you may nod in agreement with most of what she says. She gives instructions for achieving her four pillars. She provides examples of notable, rich or famous people who, if they didn’t exactly turn their backs on incredibly hard work and mounds of money, at least tried to integrate well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving into their ambitious lifestyles. Each of her celebrity examples reports that their success and wealth became even more pleasurable when they included that third metric and learned to thrive.
You are not your bank account, or your ambitiousness. You’re not the cold clay lump with a big belly you leave behind when you die. You’re not your collection of walking personality disorders. You are spirit, you are love.Anne Lamott
Huffington offers the conclusion that you, too, will benefit greatly from embracing these pillars. She makes a good case, even if at times her examples unconsciously reflect her life of almost unimaginable privilege. What she doesn’t seem to realize is that the disparity between how she lives and how the majority of her likely readers live makes some of her suggestions untenable.
Huffington urges you to get more sleep. She overlooks that perhaps you have already considered this idea and that if only you could, you would. She also suggests that you recharge by taking at least one full day off each week to rest without doing any work. Again, many folks would happily do so if they could afford it. These notions highlight the central – but not condemning – problem with Huffington’s mind-set. She posits many issues as existential problems – problems of an approach to life or a failed set of strategic choices. She advises that if you replace certain unhealthy modes – too much time online, obsession with work, the power quest, a refusal to stop and smell the roses – with more evolved pursuits, you will reap rich spiritual rewards.
Yet Huffington doesn’t seem to grasp that many people have no choice. Most folks work all the time because they must, and they suffer the ill effects of stress because having to work all the time is really, really stressful. Huffington, like many of her illustrious examples, was able to back off and relieve her stress when she feared compromising her physical or mental health.
A Win-Win for Companies and Employees
That said, Huffington does offer a possible way to embrace a healthier lifestyle, even for those not in executive suites or luxury homes. She cites the grocery retail chain Safeway’s remarkable program of giving employees incentives to improve their health. Workers receive bonuses for not smoking, for losing weight, for lowering their blood pressure and cholesterol, and for other healthful life changes. Former Safeway CEO Steve Burd explains that he found that the company paid surprisingly high health care costs, “driven by people’s behaviors.” He reasoned that rewarding his employees’ healthy lifestyle choices would increase their productivity and company loyalty and lower his cost of doing business. The continuing success of this program proves him right. This is Huffington’s not-unreasonable view of a win-win: greater profitability on the corporate level, improved health down in the trenches.
I began to notice how much company I had as a former successful woman executive. I began to reflect on what really caused me to leave.Author Carolina Turner, “Difference Works”
No matter how much you have to work, you can’t argue with the basic common sense of Huffington’s suggestions. She wants you to eat more healthfully, sleep more, exercise, meditate and seek mindfulness with meditation-like exercises. For wisdom, she recommends following your own spiritual path, seeking balance, heeding your instincts or “inner voice,” learning continually, hurrying less and understanding your limitations so you might transcend them.
Lose Yourself and Give
Huffington argues that modern living – with its insane pace and compulsive online connectedness – dilutes or obliterates basic, necessary marveling. She urges, in equal measure, an embrace of silence and of losing yourself, at other times, in music. Huffington promotes openness to coincidence, and wants you to recognize how you can function in harmony with the universe.
Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis, all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.Frederick Buechner
Giving is simple, she says: “Simply give.” Be a mentor, work in a soup kitchen, teach – do something that reminds you of how much you have and tells you that you can and must share your gifts. This idea seems to be the driving impulse behind Huffington’s call for greater spiritual awareness and self-care. And despite a generally excessive level of self-regard, Huffington does provide a service. She offers commonsense, accessible solutions to lessen or reduce the killer stress that afflicts everyone in this age. Just raising awareness of that stress – which has become the water in which you swim – is a gift in itself.