For years, Dan Harris was a cranky, cutthroat, coke-loving anchor on ABC News. Through a series of fortunate encounters with pop spiritual figures and “Jew-Bu”’s, he discovered and developed the power of meditation. His book, 10% Happier, tells the story of how he became a calmer, kinder person. It also introduces a pragmatic compromise between Western Buddhism and success in the workplace.
Utility: ★★★✰✰ (3/5)
Writing: ★★★★★ (5/5)
This book was gripping. I stayed up all night reading it, despite my bronchitis-infested body begging me to rest. I don’t regret it either. Part of it is that I identified with the story: every time he brought up an apprehension about meditation, I found myself nodding along.
Dan’s narrative style combines masterful storytelling with accessible writing, making it easy and exciting to read. His professional background really shines through these pages: I can almost imagine him reporting on himself. The fact that the book is an autobiography makes the story even more captivating - what a fucking journey!
Of course, the book isn’t nearly as great as a source of practical advice. Most of it is concentrated in the last few pages of the book, where Dan summarizes the lessons he’s learned. That shouldn’t stop you though: it’s a thoroughly entertaining read and I would highly recommend that you pick up a copy.
Meditation enriches your life and has a laundry list of proven health benefits. You should sit comfortably, focus on your breath (either the nose, belly or chest), and gently return to the breath whenever you get lost. You should struggle to focus - the whole point of meditation is to repeatedly catch your mind as it runs away. Some useful tips for me:
- Count your breaths, or use notes like “in” and “out.”
- Meditate every day, in the same spot.
- Simply note any itches, worries, or other distractions - the label itself will put distance between you and the feeling.
- Experiment with variations: conduct a body scan (walk through your body parts, bottom to top and back), walking meditation (pace back and forth, noting the lift, move, and place motions), compassion meditation (also called “metta” - search it up), and open awareness.
No Monking Around
Meditating doesn’t mean you have to abandon your possessions and retreat to the mountains.1 Sometimes you need to be firm or aggressive. Just make sure you are responding and not reacting. Similarly, feeling insecure can sometimes be helpful; just know when you’re overthinking it.2
Zizek has a piercing critique of the Dan Harris style of Western Buddhism. He thinks it has become a fetishistic object, as well as a way to cope with stress without addressing the consumerist culture that causes it to begin with. ↩
Personally, I found this advice super helpful in debate rounds and other performance-based competitions. A little joking around can go a long way to keeping you flexible and in the moment. ↩