“10% Happier” is a memoir by ABC News correspondent Dan Harris that chronicles his unexpected journey from a news anchor to the world of meditation.
After a nationally televised panic attack on “Good Morning America,” Harris grapples with the underlying causes of his on-air meltdown and the stresses of his professional life. Through his narrative, he exposes the high-pressure environment of news broadcasting and his own ambitious, often self-destructive, pursuit of career success.
In an attempt to deal with his issues, Harris stumbles upon the benefits of meditation, initially approaching it with skepticism but gradually becoming a convert.
10% Happier Summary
Harris’s exploration of meditation is both journalistic and personal. He delves into the scientific research behind the practice, interviews various spiritual leaders and gurus, and recounts his meetings with individuals such as Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra.
However, it is his encounter with Mark Epstein, a therapist who integrates Buddhist practices with Western psychotherapy, that proves pivotal. Epstein introduces Harris to the concept of mindfulness and the notion that happiness is derived from being present in the moment, rather than being caught up in relentless ambition and the pursuit of future gratification.
This resonates deeply with Harris, who begins to see meditation not as an esoteric practice but as a practical tool for improving mental well-being.
As Harris’s meditation practice deepens, he experiences the benefits firsthand.
He becomes more focused, less reactive, and, as the title suggests, about 10% happier.
This figure is not based on empirical measurement but serves as a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgment that while meditation has significantly improved his life, it is not a panacea for all of life’s complexities. The modesty of the claim also serves to make his account more relatable and palatable to a skeptical audience, asserting that even a small increase in happiness is a worthwhile pursuit.
The book weaves Harris’s personal anecdotes with insights into the historical and practical aspects of meditation. He traces its origins from ancient traditions to its modern incarnation as a secular, science-backed method for reducing stress and improving emotional health. Harris addresses the common misconceptions about meditation, such as the belief that it’s about emptying the mind or achieving a state of constant bliss, and instead portrays it as a rigorous exercise in mental discipline.
He emphasizes that meditation is not about detaching from reality but about engaging with it more fully, with a greater sense of clarity and equanimity.
“10% Happier” culminates in Harris’s advocacy for meditation as an accessible and valuable practice for a broad audience.
He discusses how it can be integrated into a busy lifestyle, asserting that it requires neither endless free time nor a spiritual epiphany.
With a candid recounting of his initial cynicism and subsequent conversion, Harris offers a unique and relatable perspective on mindfulness. His narrative is a call to action for the overworked and overstressed, suggesting that through mindfulness meditation, one can find a path to a more balanced, productive, and, as he has found, a happier life.
1. Understanding the Interplay Between Success and Happiness
Dan Harris vividly illustrates how an obsessive pursuit of success can lead to unhappiness and stress.
Harris, who was an anchor at ABC News, shared his personal experience, reflecting on how his relentless quest for professional success led him to a public panic attack on live television.
This became a pivotal moment in his life, highlighting that the seemingly inverse relationship between success and happiness needed to be reevaluated.
This lesson urges us to reconsider the cultural narrative that success at any cost is desirable. It underlines the importance of balance, demonstrating that it’s possible to pursue professional achievement while also prioritizing mental health and personal well-being.
2. The Power of Mindfulness and Meditation
Harris was skeptical about mindfulness and meditation at the beginning, viewing it as pseudoscientific and incompatible with his rational, skeptical mindset.
But after he encountered meditation and gave it a chance, he found it to be a transformative practice that significantly contributed to his mental health and overall well-being.
Through his journey, Harris breaks down common misconceptions about meditation, showing it as a practical, secular, and scientifically validated method to better handle stress, improve focus, and foster emotional health.
He emphasizes that it doesn’t require drastic changes in lifestyle or adopting new beliefs. Instead, a regular, modest practice can lead to measurable improvements in happiness and stress management.
3. Taming the “Monkey Mind”
Harris uses the Buddhist term “monkey mind” to describe the restless, unsettled, and uncontrolled state that the human mind often falls into. He describes how unchecked ambition, constant rumination about past events, or anxiety about the future can exacerbate this condition, leading to unnecessary suffering.
Through meditation, he suggests, we can begin to tame this “monkey mind.”
Instead of trying to suppress or battle our thoughts, meditation allows us to observe them non-judgmentally and understand their transient nature.
This awareness creates a space between ourselves and our reactions, which can lead to better control over our responses to stressful or challenging situations.
4. Skepticism and Open-Mindedness Can Coexist
Throughout the book, Harris maintains a skeptical perspective, questioning every claim and challenging each teaching he encounters on his journey.
But importantly, he pairs this skepticism with an open mind. He is willing to try new practices and listen to teachings from spiritual teachers, even when they seem at odds with his initial beliefs.
This combination of skepticism and openness allows him to explore new ideas critically, accept beneficial practices like meditation while discarding those that don’t serve him.
It’s a reminder for us as readers that it’s not only okay to question and demand evidence for claims, but it’s also beneficial to remain open to new experiences and practices, as they may provide unexpected benefits.
Dan Harris’s “10% Happier” is a refreshing take on mindfulness and meditation, stripped of any mystical trappings and presented through the lens of a self-proclaimed skeptic turned believer.
His narrative is engaging, relatable, and humorous, making the subject matter accessible to those who might be dismissive of meditation. By framing the practice as a simple, secular, and science-backed method for improving mental health and happiness by a modest but significant amount, Harris encourages us to approach meditation with practicality and a sense of experimentation.
Read our other summaries
- The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People | Book Summary
- The Power of Now | Book Summary
- Humans Are Underrated | Book Summary
- You are a Badass | Book Summary
- The Four Hour Body | Book Summary