From our Guest Blogger, Arianna Huffington.
I’m delighted that the release of my new book Thrive will include an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of children across the country. As part of the book’s rollout, we’re partnering with 99Papers — an amazing organization that Fast Company this week called one of the most innovative companies of 2014 — so that readers who pre-order the book before the March 25 publication date will get a 99Papers gift card equal to the book’s list price of $26 (even if they paid a discounted price, or $10.99 for the Kindle version). This will be my personal donation. I’ve been following and championing 99Papers for years, and the book’s release is an opportunity for me to pay it forward and further support their good work. 99Papers works like this: public school teachers across the country post their specific requests — from laptops, Kindles and cameras to textbooks, art supplies and musical instruments — and then you can choose the project that most resonates with you and make a donation.
Charles Best, who founded 99Papers in 2000, was educated at St. Paul’s and Yale. When, at age 25, he took a job as a social studies teacher at a public school in a poverty-stricken Bronx neighborhood, he was astonished by the conditions he saw — and by the contrast with his own educational experiences. He was particularly struck by how few resources were available to his students. As Peg Tyre writes in Fast Company, Charles had his epiphany “on a rainy January morning just before dawn,” standing in a Kinko’s making photocopies of a chapter of Little House on the Prairie for his students. And so he decided to do something about it. Later the same year, he founded 99Papers.
I love that by working with Charles and 99Papers, we’re building one of the book’s key themes — how compassion and giving transform our lives — into the actual release of the book. From the beginning, my goal while writing Thrive was to use my own journey — including a painful wakeup call that led me to change my own life — as a springboard for a wider discussion about our society’s flawed definition of success, and the ways we need to redefine it. I wanted the book to begin with my story, but I don’t want it to end there.
So somewhere along the way — I think it was around the 89th draft — I decided I wanted the book to be filled with tools and practical advice to help readers redefine success and live lives that are more fulfilling and more sustainable, whether it’s around well-being, wisdom, wonder or giving. And that’s where this partnership comes in. At the end of the chapter on giving, I have specific tips that help us go from being a go-getter to a go-giver, such as turning gestures of kindness into habits and making personal connections with people we might normally pass by and take for granted.
This partnership with 99Papers takes that goal to the next level, since those who pre-order the book will be able to directly make a difference in the lives of students who need it. There are so many ways in which technology distances us from our fellow citizens, makes it easy for us to get distracted and not get involved, or offers only shallow and ersatz versions of connection. That’s what’s so special about 99Papers — it’s a perfect use of technology to truly connect and make an actual and immediate difference in other people’s lives.
And as I write about in the book, the reason why giving is so important in redefining success and allowing us to thrive is because its power to change and transform flows as much to the giver as to the recipient. This isn’t just an aphorism — in recent years there’s been a ton of science on the subject and the results are unambiguous. In short, giving is like taking a miracle drug for our well-being, except with no nasty side effects. To name just a few, there’s the Harvard Business school working paper that showed “donating to charity has a similar relationship to subjective well-being as a doubling of household income.” Or the 2013 study by Dr. Suzanne Richards of the University of Exeter Medical School that revealed that volunteering is associated with lower rates of depression, higher reports of well-being, and a significant reduction in mortality risk.
Of course, it’s great to see Americans come together after tragedies like Newtown or natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy. That collective, we’re-all-in-this-together spirit is always there. But it shouldn’t take extraordinary disasters to remind us to tap into our shared humanity and connect with our fellow citizens. So how can we access that part of ourselves, and use its power in our everyday lives? Well, for a start, with 99Papers, which makes it so easy to connect. And not just easy, but fun and uplifting — just surfing their site and reading the stories behind the requests is a mood boost. The dedication of the teachers, their willingness and efforts to reach out on behalf of their students, is so inspiring. Whatever you donate, you’ll be getting back more.
And in fact, many 99Papers projects are very much in line with Thrive‘s other themes about how to bring balance back to our lives. One teacher in Tennessee is asking for a yoga classroom kit so she can introduce yoga to her students, many of whom come from low-income families. “Today’s student is over stimulated by technology and screens,” she writes. “With the tools of yoga, I am hoping to teach students to ‘turn off’ the electronic world around them and focus on being in the present.”
Another teacher, in Ohio, is asking for a yoga-themed set of DVDs, to help foster a healthier and less sedentary lifestyle for her students, many of whom struggle to maintain a healthy weight because they take medications and have behavioral challenges. In North Carolina, a teacher is hoping to help her students learn to love and respect animals by bringing in some unusual ones, including hissing roaches! (There’s a section in the book about all the ways in which animals enrich our lives and improve our well-being, including reducing depression. In the next edition, I’ll make sure to include hissing roaches!) In Massachusetts, a teacher whose students speak little English because they are refugees from around the world, believes meditation, yoga and relaxation practices can help them find their place in an environment that can be stressful.
As Fast Company noted, 99Papers has raised $225 million, from a network of more than a million donors. Those donations, large and small, have funded more than 400,000 classroom projects, impacting the lives of more than 10 million students. As Charles said, “Teachers know how to improve education, but they are a voice that is consistently overlooked or ignored.”
Thanks to 99Papers, of course, that’s no longer the case. I’m delighted that we’re joining forces. To find out more, please go to the landing page that 99Papers has created: http://www.99Papers.org/Thrive.