Arianna Huffington has no shortage of innovative and transformative ideas — the Greek media mogul’s determinedly feminist approach to the written word has transformed journalism as we know it over the course of her career. Last time she visited us, we celebrated her book ‘Thrive’ – where she extolled the virtues of a work-life balance. This time around, the author, columnist, Co-Founder, and Editor in Chief of The Huffington Post stopped by NeueHouse Madison Square with her daughter Isabella Huffington to talk about her new book ‘The Sleep Revolution,’ the obnoxious roommate, and the buffoonery that is Donald Trump.
NeueJournal: You’ve referred to the sleep revolution as a feminist issue. Why is that?
Arianna Huffington: Our current notion of success, in which we drive ourselves into the ground, if not the grave— in which working to the point of exhaustion and burnout is considered a badge of honor— was put in place by men, in a workplace culture dominated by men. But it’s a model of success that’s not working for women, and, really, it’s not working for men, either.
For far too long, we’ve been operating under a collective delusion that burnout is the necessary price we must pay for accomplishment and success. Recent scientific findings make it clear that this couldn’t be less true. Not only is there no tradeoff between living a well-rounded life and high performance, performance is actually improved when our lives include time for renewal. And as we try to create a world where walking around sleep-deprived becomes stigmatized instead of lauded, women are uniquely positioned to lead the way.
NJ: Do you think you would have had the same level of success had you worked a bit less and slept a bit more?
AH: I’m often asked a question that goes something like this: “Arianna, it’s great that you get all this sleep now, but would you have had the same career if you had done this earlier in your life?” And my answer isn’t just a categorical yes—I also believe that not only would I have achieved whatever I’ve achieved, but I would have done it with more joy, more aliveness, and less of a cost to my health and my relationships.
NJ: What is the last great idea you had while sleeping?
AH: Adding the disclaimer at the bottom of every HuffPost article about Donald Trump pointing out the truth, along with supporting links, of who he is. Early on we decided to not cover him as a normal candidate since it’s clear he’s a dangerous force in American politics. So we initially covered him in our Entertainment section, which seemed a fitting place for his buffoonery. But as his campaign gained steam, along with the buffoonery, we had to take him more seriously. So now we run the following disclaimer at the end of every HuffPost piece that mentions him:
“Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.”
And I was waking up from a great night’s sleep when I had the idea to launch our HuffPost Sleep Revolution College Tour, which we’ve now taken to more than 300 colleges across the country, drawing on the latest science to raise awareness and spark a national conversation about the importance of sleep and the dangers of sleep deprivation. It’s had an incredible response.
NJ: New York is known as ‘the city that never sleeps.’ What do you think the benefit would be, city-wide, if we became more well rested?
AH: Our lives – not only as individuals but our collective life as New Yorkers – would improve in nearly every way. We’re living in a golden age of sleep science—revealing all the ways in which sleep plays a vital role in our decision making, emotional intelligence, cognitive function, and creativity. New York is already doing pretty well in all these departments! But imagine how much the city would improve if we were all operating at full capacity, instead of feeling burned out and depleted all the time?
It’s particularly important because a city that prides itself on never sleeping is particularly susceptible to “second-hand sleep deprivation.” When you’re sleep-deprived, it doesn’t just affect your own life – it also makes life worse for everyone around you. If you’re moody, irritable, and depleted, that affects everyone you come into contact with. And when it comes to drowsy driving, which is responsible for 1.2 million car crashes and 8,000 deaths a year, our sleep deprivation can truly endanger the lives of others.
NJ: What is your proudest achievement so far?
AH: I’m most proud of everything we’ve been able to accomplish at The Huffington Post. Eleven years after our founding, we strive every day to innovate and seize new opportunities, but at the same time stay true to our DNA. We’re committed to covering our core editorial pillars — news and politics, wellness, and solutions to the world’s biggest problems — and using every available tool and platform, including virtual reality and immersive storytelling, to inform, inspire, entertain and empower. With editions in 15 countries, we’re able to reach more people than ever before, and voices that once would have gone unheard have a chance to join the conversation, and maybe even have a chance to change the world.
NJ: If you could sum up the current presidential race in three words, which would they be?
AH: Media’s ultimate test.
NJ: What is your most prized possession?
AH: As I thought about this question, I realized there is absolutely nothing I couldn’t live without. But something I love and wear all the time, to the point of my friends asking me if I have another pair, is a pair of gold hoop earrings with a pearl, which a dear friend gave me for Christmas one year.
NJ: How would you define happiness?
AH: For me, happiness is living life, as the poet Rumi put it, as though everything is rigged in our favor. By this I mean that we are never going to avoid upsets, obstacles, heartbreaks. Our happiness is determined by our attitude to what happens in our life.
NJ: If you were given the ability to never feel an emotion again, would you accede to this? If so, which emotion would you get rid of?
AH: I would give up judgments, especially self-judgments. I’m a big proponent of silencing the voices of self-doubt in our heads, which I call the obnoxious roommate. It’s the voice that feeds on putting us down and strengthening our insecurities and doubts. I wish someone would invent a tape recorder that we could attach to our brains to record everything we tell ourselves. We would realize how important it is to stop this negative self-talk. It means pushing back against our obnoxious roommate with a dose of wisdom. I have spent many years trying to evict my obnoxious roommate and have now managed to relegate her to only occasional guest appearances in my head!
NJ: What do you believe is the meaning of life?
AH: I strongly believe that we are not put on this earth just to accumulate victories and trophies and avoid failures; but rather to be whittled and sandpapered down until what’s left is who we truly are.
Photography: Manolo Campion for NeueJournal