Every year we are subjected to lists. Forbes magazine lists the world’s wealthiest individuals. Time magazine lists the most “influential” people, though real influence is difficult to define or quantify.
What I’ve never seen is a list of satisfied people, much less stories about how they attained satisfaction.
Arianna Huffington is trying to fill that gap. One of the world’s biggest Type A personalities, Huffington, who launched the Huffington Post in 2005 and whose picture appears alongside celebrities, politicians and business icons, is now asking a question popularized in an old song by the late Peggy Lee: “Is that all there is?”
In her latest book, “Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom and Wonder,” Huffington says her definition of success began to change after a 2007 fall in her Los Angeles home caused, she says, by exhaustion and a lack of sleep.
She rethought the meaning of a good life and found it to be something quite different from how it is portrayed by pop culture. The pursuit of money and power, she writes, didn’t satisfy after she had acquired a considerable amount of each. In fact, she says, these twin demons harm bodies, minds and relationships: “There are still millions desperately looking for the next promotion, the next million-dollar payday that they believe will satisfy their longing to feel better about themselves, or silence their dissatisfaction.”
One sentence I quickly underlined: “Have you noticed that when we die, our eulogies celebrate our lives very differently from the way society defines success?” It’s true. Think of the number of funerals you’ve attended. How many of the eulogizers say the departed one wished he had made one more phone call, or closed one more deal?
Part of this – and I believe it to be a large part – is that culture, including the media, is less focused on people with good character qualities and work habits. The White House staffer is lauded for working 18-hour days and weekends. Working harder too often means working longer, as if the two are equal. I recall a prominent ex-network newsman who was once denied the anchor chair because management didn’t like him taking a little time off to watch his son’s baseball games. He didn’t get the anchor chair, but he has the love and respect of his son. Which is of greater value and pays more dividends?
It’s not that Huffington’s conclusions about life and what matters most haven’t been written about before. As she points out, the ancient Greeks debated these things centuries ago, and one can always consult such books as Ecclesiastes, whose author reminds us, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.”
There is also the story of the Prodigal Son who wasted his inheritance on riotous living and finally “came to his senses.”
Every generation has had individuals who call upon people to push the pause button, or even the stop button. Unfortunately, there is no rewind to life. But we can start over from where we are. In “Thrive,” Huffington, who is at the top of her game, offers an off-ramp to those headed at top speed in the wrong direction.
“Thrive” isn’t about giving up. It’s about priorities and true satisfaction. It can improve any life.