Review of 10% Happier by Dan Harris

I'm already telling everyone to read this book and thinking of people I can send it to because it's the perfect introduction to meditation. I was able to get my ebook copy from the library, so keep that in mind too.

I devoured this book in about 3 days. First, Dan Harris is hilarious. He's self-deprecating, honest and extremely curious, which makes for a great story. To get an idea of how he writes, here's an example of a chapter title: "Chapter 10: The Self-Interested Case for Not Being a Dick."

I've been getting more and more interested in meditation, mindfulness, and Buddhism over the past few years, but there's still a part of me that resists the stereotypical Buddhist, hippie type vision people have. Dan Harris summarized exactly how I felt about it when I couldn't put it into words. He explains that Buddhism started more as a philosophy than a religion, and although he has embraced parts of it, he approaches it all in a modern way. His whole experience really hit home with me and made a lot of sense.

The numerous scientific studies included in 10% Happier also add a level of evidence that I think will help more people get behind the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. He mentions MRI scans showing that meditators develop more gray matter in their brains. 

I also liked that he researched and interviewed a variety of mindfulness "experts," including Ekhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra. It made me rethink my admiration for Chopra a little bit, but I guess I never really knew that much about him anyway.

Amazon description:

"Nightline anchor Dan Harris embarks on an unexpected, hilarious, and deeply skeptical odyssey through the strange worlds of spirituality and self-help, and discovers a way to get happier that is truly achievable.

After having a nationally televised panic attack on Good Morning America, Dan Harris knew he had to make some changes. A lifelong nonbeliever, he found himself on a bizarre adventure, involving a disgraced pastor, a mysterious self-help guru, and a gaggle of brain scientists. Eventually, Harris realized that the source of his problems was the very thing he always thought was his greatest asset: the incessant, insatiable voice in his head, which had both propelled him through the ranks of a hyper-competitive business and also led him to make the profoundly stupid decisions that provoked his on-air freak-out.

We all have a voice in our head. It’s what has us losing our temper unnecessarily, checking our email compulsively, eating when we’re not hungry, and fixating on the past and the future at the expense of the present. Most of us would assume we’re stuck with this voice – that there’s nothing we can do to rein it in – but Harris stumbled upon an effective way to do just that. It’s a far cry from the miracle cures peddled by the self-help swamis he met; instead, it’s something he always assumed to be either impossible or useless: meditation. After learning about research that suggests meditation can do everything from lower your blood pressure to essentially rewire your brain, Harris took a deep dive into the underreported world of CEOs, scientists, and even marines who are now using it for increased calm, focus, and happiness.

10% Happier takes readers on a ride from the outer reaches of neuroscience to the inner sanctum of network news to the bizarre fringes of America’s spiritual scene, and leaves them with a takeaway that could actually change their lives."

Good quotes from 10% happier book:

➡️ "The ego is constantly comparing itself to others. It has us measuring our self-worth against the looks, wealth, and social status of everyone else. ... The ego thrives on drama. It keeps our old resentments and grievances alive through compulsive thought. ... Perhaps the most powerful Tollean insight into the ego was that is it obsessed with the past and the future, at the expense of the present. We 'live almost exclusively through memory and anticipation.;"

➡️ "Buddhism's secret sauce went by a hopelessly anodyne name: 'mindfulness.' In a nutshell, mindfulness is the ability to recognize what is happening in your mind right now- anger, jealousy, sadness, the pain of a stubbed toe, whatever- without getting carried away by it."

➡️ "The final step- "non-identification"- meant seeing that just because I was feeling angry or jealous or fearful, that did not render me a permanently angry or jealous person. These were just passing states of mind."

➡️ "It's so obvious to me now: the slipping away is the whole point. Once you've achieved choiceless awareness, you see so clearly how fleeting everything is."

➡️"Even if we were handed everything we wanted, would it really make us sustainably happy? ... There's actually a term for this- "hedonic adaptation." When good things happen, we bake them very quickly into our baseline expectations, and yet the primordial void goes unfulfilled."

I highlighted a lot from the book, but I won't include them all. Read it for yourself!

You might also be interested in my review of Happy: A Documentary.

If you've read this book, I'd love to hear your thoughts! I'd also love to know what you're reading right now.

A Lesson in Being Present

Nothing will test your patience quite like flying. And in my case, traveling for business in general. I love the idea of traveling, but I'm a very anxious person. Navigating layovers, delayed flights, airport shuttles to hotels, etc. is exhausting and leaves my nerves feeling fried. Follow that up with a business dinner, and I'm almost guaranteed to get overwhelmed.

Everything went smoothly Monday, but I still found myself anxiously awaiting the moment I got to head back home. It didn't help that I realized I had forgotten my laptop charger and notepad. I couldn't follow the yoga video I had planned to use, couldn't get ahead on a project I had on my mind and felt unprepared for the meetings that week. Basically I felt even less in control.

Realizing that I spend so much of my focus during business trips on the moment I get to leave was eye opening. I've never been to Tampa before, so why was I letting my anxiety ruin it? I could think of other trips where I had done the same thing.

Monday night I tossed and turned almost all night. I had a bad case of RLS and/or severe anxiety over nothing in particular. Running on 2.5 hours of sleep, I managed to make it through a day of meetings on Tuesday. (This is partly due to fueling my body with green juice and a big spinach salad at lunch.) After the meetings I had a little time before dinner, so I knew I had to do something to refocus and feel centered.

I decided to give meditation a try.

You have to understand, this isn't something I'm accustomed to doing. I always mean to meditate, but never quite get there. I was so overwhelmed + exhausted I felt like I had no other choice, though. I closed my eyes, sitting cross legged with palms up. I focused on breathing deeply and repeated a few positive affirmations or mantras in my head. After about 10 minutes, I could feel my body starting to lighten. The anxiety and stress was melting away.

I grounded myself by thinking about everything I had to be grateful for in that moment and letting go of all the things I couldn't control.

Fast forward to Wednesday evening- I had already been at the airport for 3 hours and my laptop battery was running out. My flight was delayed for a third time and everyone around me was starting to get angry. I overheard phone conversations with people saying the delays were ridiculous- they'd been traveling since that morning from Seattle, blah blah blah.

I was irritated too. My body hurt from traveling only a few days before, my mind was fried from meetings + very little sleep, and I was anxious being surrounded by so many people. I sent a text to my fiance complaining about the flight, and immediately after hitting send I realized how ridiculous I was being. I was acting so incredibly ungrateful, again. It's amazing that we're able to fly across the country in a few hours. It's a blessing that the airline was being cautious because of weather.

So, like any normal person, I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and tried to meditate in the airport. I needed to clear my head, center myself and be present. The present situation wasn't the best, but so what? In a way, I was secretly thankful for the break. I couldn't do any work, and could read my book without feeling guilty.

We rush around so much and get upset when our plans get interrupted. "I don't have time for this!" But what if we could be more flexible? What if we could just be? Just exist. Be thankful.

To me, being present is about realizing what you can control and what you can't. It's about appreciating the wonders of life in this moment. Taking in your surroundings and being aware of yourself.