Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Well-being is not a luxury, but a competitive advantage: Arianna Huffington

The media mogul hopes to quell India's problem with professional burnout with her wellness startup, Thrive Global

Pankti Mehta Kadakia
Published: Jan 15, 2019 08:07:27 AM IST
Updated: Jan 14, 2019 06:10:01 PM IST

Well-being is not a luxury, but a competitive advantage: Arianna HuffingtonArianna Huffington
Image: Mexy Xavier

Q. Why did you choose India as your first international market?
It’s my favourite country in the world. I believe that ancient Indian wisdom has a lot to teach the modern world. In order to disrupt the way we work and live, we need both data and ancient philosophy. I studied comparative religion at Santiniketan when I was 17, which really shaped me. I learned from the Gita that there are three kinds of lives, and the ideal is a life of light, in which you can connect with yourself with strength and wisdom. That’s at the centre of Thrive Global’s philosophy, and what is exciting is that this has now been validated by modern science.

Our media platform launched in India two months ago, and it already has 25 million users. In India, where 60 percent of millennials suffer from anxiety and depression, there’s a huge need and want for a platform like ours.
Q. India has a tradition of working hard, not smart, driven largely by our education system. How do you hope to counter that?
In India, 80 percent of professionals have experienced burnout. In much of the world, we believe that long hours are a sign of dedication. The way Thrive is countering that is with science, which conclusively shows that high performance is about how we work, not how much we work. Our approach is to show businesses that well-being isn’t a luxury, but a competitive advantage. And yes, like the US, burnout is often learned during school and at university. That’s something we need to change. Getting adequate sleep has a profound effect on academic performance. However, we are seeing signs of the culture shift, like with the recent HRD ministry directive to regulate homework for students in Classes 1 and 2.

Q. What does it take to build a digital business that encourages people to switch off?
There’s nothing wrong with digital platforms—this is the future, and this is our life. What matters is setting boundaries so we’re not constantly engulfed by them. Making digital media addictive is a problem, and 2017 was a big awakening in that sense. To be sustainable, companies will have to take into account the public good as well as their own profits.

The Thrive Android app helps you set a new relationship with your phone. If you’re having dinner with your family, you can put your phone in ‘Thrive Mode’. So if you try to contact me, you’ll get a text saying ‘Arianna is in Thrive mode’. Our new iOS app will nudge you to make small daily changes, depending on the area you want to improve—sleep, exercise, nutrition etc.

(This story appears in the 01 February, 2019 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)