Happiness interview: Arianna Huffington.
I've followed Arianna Huffington's fascinating career for years, and for several years I cross-posted my blog material on the site she launched, The Huffington Post, but it was only last week that I got the chance to meet her face to face.
We were both speaking at a conference here in New York City, and got a chance to talk afterward. I was very interested to hear what she had to say during her presentation, because I'd gotten my hands on her new book Thrive: the Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder.
For someone who thinks about happiness and habits all day long, of course, a book with this title is irresistible. It's full of insights, examples, and research about how to "thrive"—how to live a life that reflects your values—and why it matters.
I was very eager to hear what she had to say specifically about habits and happiness.
Gretchen: What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?
Arianna: I have made a habit of integrating certain practices into my day—meditation, exercise, walking—but conscious breathing is the habit I can return to hundreds of times a day, in an instant. A conscious focus on breathing helps me introduce pauses into my daily life, brings me back into the moment, and helps me transcend upsets and setbacks.
What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
I now know more—much more about the importance of sleep. Get enough sleep and you will be more productive, more effective, and better able to enjoy your life. Today, this is my number one healthy habit. When I was 18, not so much! [I so agree with this point; if you need tips for getting more sleep, look here.]
Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?
Looking at my phones—plural. Yes, I carry three BlackBerries and an iPhone (though an iPhone with a keyboard!).
Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?
I’m a total Obliger—or perhaps a recovering Obliger! I’ve always struggled to meet expectations I’ve imposed on myself. I call that voice my obnoxious roommate living in my head. That’s the voice that will keep you from living out your dreams for the rest of your life. I try to silence this inner obnoxious roommate by remembering the words of the French writer Montaigne: “There were many terrible things in my life, but most of them never happened.”
Have you ever made a flash change, where you changed a major habit very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?
My flash change came on the morning of April 6, 2007. I was lying on the floor of my home office in a pool of blood. On my way down, my head had hit the corner of my desk, cutting my eye and breaking my cheekbone. I had collapsed from exhaustion and lack of sleep. In the wake of my collapse, I found myself going from doctor to doctor, from brain MRI to CAT scan to echocardiogram, to find out if there was any underlying medical problem beyond exhaustion. There wasn’t, but doctors’ waiting rooms, it turns out, were good places for me to ask myself a lot of questions about the kind of life I was living.
This was a classic wake-up call. Looking back on my life, I had other times when I should have woken up but didn’t. This time I really did and made many changes in the way I live my life, including adopting daily practices to keep me on track— and out of doctors’ waiting rooms. The result is a more fulfilling life, one that gives me breathing spaces and a deeper perspective.
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