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Mindful : June 2014
36 mindful June 2014 well-being Mindful: Why are you so strongly motivated to pro - mote the idea of a “third metric”? Arianna Huffington: Several trends have been converging that demonstrate that the time has come to put much more emphasis on well-being in our lives—personally, professionally, societally. For one thing, we’re beginning to recognize in la rger a nd larger numbers that the way we’ve run our lives and the way we’ve worked is not sustainable. We’re paying a heav y price for the way we’ve been living. Three-qua rters of health care costs in the United States are now for chronic stress-related diseases, and the numbers are similar right around the globe. A second trend is the principle that it is neces- sary for us to include an inner focus in our lives has acquired scientific legitimacy. Through the work of people like neuroscientist Richie Davidson we have data and fMRI images (functional magnetic resonance imaging) that demonstrate the benefi- cial effect of meditation and mindful living on our brains, on our overall health, and on our ability to make critical decisions with insight and foresight, rather than expedience. A third major trend is our growing desire to take charge of our own lives in order to increase our happiness and well-being—a nd technology can be a big help in that. Technology has made it harder to be mindful a nd easier to be trapped in the little world of our devices, but it has also made it possible for us to track sleep, movement, and food intake. We can resea rch the data of our own behavior. Because they involve taking personal responsibility for our well-being, do you think prog rams to promote mindfulness and well-being can transcend the culture wars? Absolutely. These campaig ns go completely beyond left and right. For me, the entry point into a bigger conversation is the notion of success. As long as our culture defines success as money and power, we’re stuck on a treadmill of stress, sleep deprivation, and In a culture that defines success as money and power, we’re stuck on a treadmill of stress, sleep deprivation, and burnout. burnout. When I collapsed in April 2007, I was—by our society’s definition—very successful, but by any sane definition of success, I was not. I was lying in a pool of blood, having struck my head, and had to go for a battery of tests to see what was wrong with me. It turned out to be burnout and exhaustion, but it could have been much worse. It seems that leaders who have this traditional view of success become addicted to stress and adrenaline. We believe we’re making sound decisions because we’re pouring all of our energy into it. How can we reverse that kind of addiction? Different people have different entry points. For many, it’s a health wakeup call. For example, Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna, had a skiing accident, and after a year of using narcotics to manage pain, he discovered meditation, yoga, and acupuncture. Following that, he wa nted to integrate them into the lives of his 34,000 employees. But it doesn’t have to be a traumatic health event. It ca n emerge when someone reads poetry that resonates with them or a scientific study that ma kes sense, or simply realizes that they want to ma ke fundamental changes in their life—because the life they’ve been living is not sustainable. Everyone will have their own moment of truth. And what I wanted to do in writing Thrive is accelerate this conversation. Some commentators have felt that mindfulness is no more than a fad. Esquire, for example, listed “being mindful” as one of the 27 things to give up in 2014 at the same time that The Huffington Post declared it to be the year of being mindful. Why, in your view, isn’t it just a fad that will pass? Anyone who is declaring it a fad must obviously not be aware of all the scientific findings. People can always deny the evidence whether it’s on global warming or mindfulness or the earth being round, but the majority of people who take the time to look at the evidence and make changes realize that Socrates’ dictum that “The unexa mined life is not worth living,” is not a matter of dispute. In my commencement speech at Smith College I ended by saying “upwa rd, onward, and inwa rd.” We need to continue going upwa rd and onward a nd engaging in our work and in the life of our community but at the same time we need to go inward. By including wisdom, wonder, and generosity in your definition of the third metric, it’s clear that you’re not talking about simply having a relaxation technique, but about genuinely inquiring into your life and cir- cumstances. Yet some people are skeptical of prog rams within corporations because they feel that they may just be tied to trying to increase productivity. How would you respond to that critique? →