Wisdom from Arianna Huffington’s Soulful Sister
At the moment, I’m traveling the world to research my next book, Blue Zones of Happiness: A Blue Print for a Better Life. In the process, I’m interviewing experts of all kinds. Along the way, I’ve met Arianna Huffington’s amazing sister, Agapi Stassinopoulos, a happiness expert of a different sort. She’s out with a new book, Wake Up to the Joy of You, which synthesizes ancient wisdom into a modern prescriptive for happiness, and I just love it. –Dan Buettner
Tell us about your version of happiness.
Happiness is a daily process and it happens moment by moment. We only have this moment and nothing else. The future doesn’t exist. That’s all we have. If we can bring our presence and our awareness to this, then we can live in more happiness and in more joy. A Sufi master, Hafiz, summed it up like this: “This place where you are right now, God circled on a map for you.”
How does your new book, Wake Up to the Joy of You, bring more joy into our lives?
I made this book into 52 chapters and really tried to address issues that we all have. Every chapter helps you answer the question: “How do I love myself?” I don’t believe in telling people how to do it. I believe we must tell people how we did it. That’s how people learn. I remind people that there is always a solution. This book gives you a year of self-discovery and action steps.
What are some tips you would give people for a happier, more joyful life?
Ditch your handheld device and focus on your community. Cook fresh foods for each other. Live by the sea, by nature. Don’t feel you have to achieve something to be happy or to be recognized. And bring heart to everything you do. That’s the secret to happiness. Bring your heart to everything you do.
You speak a lot about gratitude, how is that an element for a happier life?
Recently my connecting flight was cancelled in Salt Lake City due to a snowstorm. I was tired and couldn’t wait to get to my bed at home. I was bitching. Then, I stopped to listen to my inner voice say, “Just start being grateful.” I shifted my focus from the negative to list the positives: “I landed safely and not into an icy mountain. There is food. I have a working credit card.” I realized my gratitude was endless. A few minutes later, I got a call from a friend of mine who invited me to stay in her hotel suite on a king size bed. It was amazing. I realized that gratitude creates miracles, bitching never does.
Your sister (Arianna Huffington) recently wrote a book on happiness. Do you two collaborate? How has your relationship with your sister brought you happiness?
We are so different, but as we grew together, we found that she was bringing me her gifts and I was bringing her mine. We have become a team and it’s one of the greatest blessings of my life. We deeply love each other and our talents complement each other. Our relationship is very much built on the principles by which our mother raised us: wisdom, wonder, well-being, and giving. My favorite quote from her is, “Life is a dance between making it happen and letting it happen.”
Your mother was an extraordinary woman, too. What did you learn from her?
My mother always used to say, “Failure is a part of your success; celebrate it, because every ‘no’ leads you to a ‘yes.’” My mother was one of the most giving people in the world. For example, she would be wearing a necklace and someone would say, “I love that necklace.” And my mother would say, “Take it. It’s not a trade, darling, it’s an offering.” She raised us with radical generosity. You offer to people, you give up what you can, and then life is very rich.
How do you find your calling?
I have six questions that can bring you closer to your calling. 1. What am I here to learn? 2. What am I here to teach? 3. What am I here to overcome? 4. What am I here to complete? 5. What am I here to express? 6. Am I enjoying my life? And if not now, when?
How do you find happiness in hardships?
We’re all teachers. We’re all here to teach something, even if we think we’re not teaching. A friend of mine has a 12-year-old child who is hyper, has a very bad attention span, and he’s temperamental. My friend said to me, “My son is the greatest teacher for me. He’s teaching me patience. He’s teaching me unconditional loving, strength, resilience, and how to ask for help from other people.”
Why do you think meditation and mindfulness are just now becoming more mainstream?
Meditation is more and more popular because people everywhere are looking for a deeper connection. To me, meditation is about gratitude and praying; it’s not about just sitting in the corner and telling your mind to be quiet, because your mind will never be quiet. It’s about redirecting your mind to your breath and allowing your thoughts to be there without judging them. When you get enough practice, you start to see that there is a calmness inside of you. There’s nothing more beautiful in the world than living in your calmness.
Agapi also shared her mother’s recipe for spanakopita, a classic Greek dish.