Review: 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head by Dan Harris

“Everything we experience in this world goes through one filter—our minds—and we spend very little time bothering to see how it works.” – Dan Harris

Summary: 10% Happier is the skeptic’s candid introduction to the science behind mindfulness and argues meditation is a reasonable solution for letting go of the stress in your life through acknowledging the illusions built up around your ego.

As an ABC News correspondent going through minor drug abuse and unacknowledged PTSD from reporting in a war zone, Dan Harris was finally forced to consider inward reflection after having a panic attack on live national television. His desire to resolve this inner anxiety led him on a journey of meditation and mindfulness and eventually a life—he argues—lived at least 10% happier.

#1 take-away: Be Simple, not a simpleton—why letting go of your ego won’t make you a push-over.

“One of the most interesting discoveries of this whole journey was that I didn’t need my demons to fuel my drive—and that taming them was a more satisfying exercise than indulging them.”

Here’s Dan’s interesting self-sabotage insight: We think our ego and the anxiety it provokes creates the competitive edge that drives us. For many of us, the fear of practicing meditation is that in doing so we become the world’s doormat. Without our ego, we’d be passive, detached, even nihilistic.

You know the type, right? The people who offer no resistance—who allow others to cut them off in conversation, who don’t insist on getting their order right, and who absorb tasteless comments without reprove.

This isn’t practicing mindfulness or letting go of the ego. Rather, the tendency is to act like a simpleton in order to avoid necessary conflict. It’s like having a paradoxically humble ego that is affirmed by acting selfless and detached, inevitably building into this false impression of ourselves that needs to be maintained, even by negative external cues.

“Don’t confuse letting go with going soft. Just because you’re aware of what is going on and being mindful about it does not mean you just let things go when you have the ability to take action on them and improve. The way to respond to adversity is often to work through it, not to avoid it altogether in the name of acting Zen.”

#1.5 take-away: Harris offers, “When necessary, hide the Zen.” We don’t have to walk around acting like neutralized Zen zombies. It’s fine to strive for success, as long as we accept the outcome is out of our control. Practicing mindfulness doesn’t solve our problems, it enables us to act—rather than react—when faced with daily stress and conflict.

“Nonattachment to results + self compassion = a supple relentlessness that is hard to match. Push hard, play to win, but don’t assume the fetal position if things don’t go your way.”

“’Is this useful?’ It’s a simple, elegant corrective to my ‘price of security’ motto. It’s okay to worry, plot, and plan […]—but only until it’s not useful anymore.”

Conclusion: Dan Harris was a true skeptic of meditation and practicing mindfulness. The book is his honest confession that, having given meditation a fair chance, he can actually feel its benefits throughout his daily life and his career in the news industry. Mindfulness is such a simple concept—it’s heightened common sense. If you’re open to a new perspective on understanding how our brains work, I’d recommend this as a good place to start. It’s a light read and offers some applicable insights into the mysterious world of mindfulness. Harris is definitely a journalist—his writing is not only good, it’s downright fun.

Other highlights:

“But it was in this moment, lying in bed late at night, that I first realized that the voice in my head—the running commentary that had dominated my field of consciousness since I could remember—was kind of an asshole.”

“All successful people fail. If you can create an inner environment where your mistakes are forgiven and flaws are candidly confronted, your resilience expands exponentially.”

“When I opened my eyes, I had an entirely different attitude about meditation. I didn’t like it, per se, but I now respected it. This was not just some hippie time-passing technique […] 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. This was a badass endeavor.”

“At the end, the meditator arrives at the true goal of Buddhist meditation: to see that the “self” that we take to be the ridgepole of our lives is actually an illusion.”

“in a world where everything is constantly changing, we suffer because we cling to things that won’t last.”

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