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 book by ABC News anchor Dan Harris, who had an on-air panic attack and then started to seek out self help from popular books. It also possibly wins the award for the longest subtitle of 2014?
Why I read 10% Happier:
About a year and a half ago, I started reading books about Buddhism, mindfulness and meditation. I read great introductions like The Buddha Walks into a Bar by Lodro Rinzler, The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh and Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen. Buddhism’s principles and philosophy resonated deeply with me, and just reading these books helped to make me more conscious about mindfulness and its huge benefits to our health, happiness, and goals.
But I knew that if I really wanted to truly cultivate mindfulness, I had to go beyond reading and try meditating – something I had all sorts of mixed feelings about. I gave it a shot, and didn’t have great success. I didn’t seem to be getting better at it over the few months that I tried it. I felt discouraged that my mind still wandered so much while I was trying to meditate. As a result of feeling discouraged, I started meditating less frequently, which is of course the opposite of what you’re supposed to do to get better at it. Then it was March 2014 and I set off on my world travels, leaving my sporadic meditation practice behind: it just wasn’t strong enough to adapt to the challenge of maintaining habits while on the road.
Why 10% Happier is great:
Reading this book is getting to watch a “regular” person seek out and question self improvement methods from many of the popular sources of the past few decades (Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra) and struggle with the real life challenges of embracing their teaching. His quest begins to lead him away from the “Oprah” vein of self-help and towards Buddhism and Meditation.
The advantage that Dan Harris has over the regular person though, is that he’s a journalist for ABC News. When he has questions about how to implement the methods and strategies in these books, he sets up an interview with the author and asks them. He gets first hand exposure to Tolle and Chopra, sees what they’re like in real life, asks them the questions he has and receives their direct guidance (sometimes useful, often times not). When his journey leads to Buddhism, he again has access to the best resources, and in particular forms a friendship with Mark Epstein, a very well respected Buddhist author and medical doctor. He even gets to interview the Dalai Lama.
So in short, it’s an account of someone who has all the same doubts and questions we ourselves are likely to have as we read these books and try to understand their philosophies, but who has the advantage of being in the position to ask all his questions directly to the authors & public figures themselves.
The biggest “ah-ha” moment for me was when he pointed out that even while you still feel like you’re “bad” at meditation – those times when your mind is wandering like crazy and you constantly have to remind yourself to focus on the breath – that time spent meditating is still hugely beneficial. By coming back to the breath and refocusing over and over again, you’re helping to train your brain to better focus and stay centered on the task at hand. This training helps improve your focus while meditating, and also for every other task your brain needs to concentrate on during your daily life. The other books on meditation I read just said things like “If your mind is wandering, don’t worry, just come back to the breath, it will get easier with time.” They made it sound like this part of meditation was the stuff you had to get through before you got to the benefits of meditation. I know that probably seems obvious, but to me it was discouraging that I didn’t seem to be getting better – it made me think I wasn’t benefitting from meditation, when actually the practice focusing was the entire point! It didn’t matter that it was still hard for me – I was still benefiting from the practice.
(In fairness, the other books I read probably said this too, it probably just went over my head or didn’t fully sink in – the authors seemed so “lofty” and good at meditation that I likely put them on a pedestal and assumed that the goal was to NOT have my thoughts intruding all the time, when the goal is the practice itself. That was a benefit of reading an account of a “regular” person attempting meditation – it helped understand the everyday challenges of meditation in a clear way.)
Should you read 10% Happier?
I’d recommend this one to anyone who, like me, tried to start a mediation practice and failed, but who doesn’t want to fully give up hope on it yet. I’d also recommend it to anyone who is new to meditation and curious (or even skeptical) about it – it’s a good starting point. I’d also recommend any of the three Buddhism books I listed above, especially the Rinzler and the Hagen titles, which are more complete introductions than the Thich Nhat Hanh title.
I read this one via audiobook, which tends to help me enjoy memoirs more.
10% Happier gave me confidence that I can rebuild my meditation practice, and make it stronger. Next up for me is reading Sit Like a Buddha by Lodro Rinzler – a short, instructive guide to how to build a meditation practice. I figure that I can use a refresher as I aim to rebuild my own habit. I’ll post a review of it later, and let you know how it’s going!
Do any of you meditate? Or maybe have tried and failed like I did?
“Picture the mind like a waterfall, they said: the water is the torrent of thoughts and emotions; mindfulness is the space behind the waterfall. Again, elegant theory – but, easier said than done.” – Dan Harris
“Marturano recommended something radical: do only one thing at a time. When you’re on the phone, be on the phone. When you’re in a meeting, be there. Set aside an hour to check your email, and then shut off your computer monitor and focus on the task at hand. Another tip: take short mindfulness breaks throughout the day. She called them “purposeful pauses.” So, for example, instead of fidgeting or tapping your fingers while your computer boots up, try to watch your breath for a few minutes. When driving, turn off the radio and feel your hands on the wheel. Or when walking between meetings, leave your phone in your pocket and just notice the sensations of your legs moving. “If I’m a corporate samurai,” I said, “I’d be a little worried about taking all these pauses that you recommend because I’d be thinking, ‘Well, my rivals aren’t pausing. They’re working all the time.’ ” “Yeah, but that assumes that those pauses aren’t helping you. Those pauses are the ways to make you a more clear thinker and for you to be more focused on what’s important.” – Dan Harris