Reading Nook: 10% Happier by Dan Harris

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in my Head, Reduced Stress without Losing my Edge, and Found Self-Help that Actually Works – A True Story is a great book for you if:

  • Long book titles are your jam.
  • Good Morning America is your morning news show of choice.
  • You have found yourself questioning the wisdom disseminated by Eckhart Tolle or Deepak Chopra.
  • You are suspect of people who wear shawls and talk in unnaturally slow, calm voices who look like they may be militant about recycling.
  • The voice inside your head can be a real asshole.
  • You are curious about meditation.

Dan Harris, cat lover, news anchor, atheist, and Deepak Chopra skeptic, wrote a self-help book for the kind of people who don’t want anything to do with self-help books. 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in my Head, Reduced Stress without Losing my Edge, and Found Self-Help that Actually Works – A True Story, is not only a book with an unnecessarily long title, it is also Harris’ story of how he stumbled across meditation and mindfulness after a live on-air panic attack…that may have had a little something to do with drugs. 

Harris was assigned to the religion beat at ABC news, much against his will and personal interests. Through this work, he learned quite a bit about the voice in his head, a real asshole, and discovered the world of a new kind of spiritualism led by Oprah-endorsed Ekchart Tolle and Deepak Chopra. Though Harris was wary of both spiritual gurus, he admired the serenity Tolle projected. He began to research mindfulness and meditation and found a world of spiritualists he could get behind, the kind that were backed by science, a segment of the universe he, and they, identify as Jew-Bu’s. That’s Jewish Buddhist for those who have not found this subsect of the spiritual world.

Following the teachings of Dr. Mark Epstein, Sharon Salzberg, Joseph Goldstein and Stephen Batchelor, Harris began a meditation practice that allowed him to quiet the asshole inside his head without losing his competitive edge at ABC. Harris’ story is both entertaining (“She says we’re going to do metta or loving-kindness meditation, which sounds like it will fall foursquare into the category of Things I Will Definitely Hate”) and practical. He’s constructed his book to be a beginner’s guide to meditation, with detailed instructions on how to be mindful, how to begin a meditation practice, directions on different types of meditation (including metta) and a list of books that were helpful to him in establishing his own practice.

My biggest takeaway was one simple question, “Is this useful?” When our monkey mind decides to rehearse all 14 steps we need to take to get through the morning over and over again in our head, are our thoughts useful? The first time through is planning, the second time through fine-tuning. Times 3 through 43 – are they useful? If not, let it go. What a beautiful restoration of balance for an anxious mind.

As per the usual, I want to leave you with a taste of the book so you can decide if it’s right for you. This is Harris’ reflection upon his first attempt at meditation.

“This was not just some hippie time-passing technique, like Ultimate Frisbee or making God’s Eyes. It was a rigorous brain exercise: rep after rep of trying to tame the runaway train of the mind. The repeated attempt to bring the compulsive thought machine to heel was like holding a live fish in your hands. Wrestling your mind to the ground, repeatedly hauling your attention back to the breath in the face of the inner onslaught required genuine grit.”