Dan Harris differs from other reporters in his willingness to open up about his emotional setbacks. In his book 10% Happier, Harris provides a humorous, self-deprecating approach to detailing his discovery of a practical solution for taming the voice in his head – the voice he had been struggling with his whole life.
What brought his book to the New York Times bestsellers list, notwithstanding his status as a news journalist, is the fact that he was unafraid to go all-out candid with the emotional turmoil he faced from the beginning of his reporting career. He exposed his vulnerabilities to the public as he touched on his experience dealing with depression and substance abuse.
Harris is not just a correspondent, reporter or anchor for ABC News (though that may be what we know him as) – he is just like all of us – human. His openness receives praise from book critics to next-door neighbors and motivates them to follow in his footsteps.
He begins by describing the panic attack that took control over him on live television the morning of June 7th, 2004. He was assigned a newsreader role on the set of Good Morning America, reading news stories via teleprompter. Halfway in, he suddenly gasped for air, as he was unable to finish a sentence. “It was the most embarrassing day of my life.” Harris says. In order to save him from further embarrassment, he backed out, leaving out the second half of the news to be unheard. This marked the beginning of his unanticipated journey.
Peter Jennings, host of ABC World News Tonight at the time, gave Harris an assignment to cover religion – a topic he begrudgingly agreed to cover. Little did he know, this task helped him unravel the mystery behind happiness. He was led to the meeting of many notable individuals in related fields, ranging from the Dalai Lama, Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, and several neuroscientists.
Why only 10 percent? Because Harris understands the impracticality of achieving 100% happiness; 10% is a feasible goal. Unlike many complacent self-help gurus who claimed to get everything they want through the “Law of Attraction”, “The Power of Positive Thinking” or some “Get Rich Quick” scheme, Harris knew something wasn’t right – it was complete BS.
There had to be a deeper, more conceptualized idea behind what makes one achieve happiness. Happiness is not all about fame, money, material abundance, or sitting in a corner to attract the goal by thinking about it – that’s more like “How to Live a Shallow Life”. After years of research and interviewing many individuals in the industry, Harris found the answer: meditation.
Fortunately, he did not follow the path of pretentiousness and material desire – he was not out there to win over your mind and your money through a book deal (though Harris probably did make bank with 10%). His book was not necessarily self-help – it was a memoir detailing his journey to discovering himself. What can make this book self-help is when readers apply the principles into their own personal lives.
Harris would be one of the first few individuals to redefine the concept of meditation. 10% Happier is one major stepping-stone to turn around the negative press surrounding meditation. It is not exclusively about hippies, Eastern culture, or Buddhism. It’s becoming a new way of life. Harris said in an interview “If you were to jog in the 1940’s, one would ask, ‘What’s chasing you?’” As developments in health and exercise progressed, running has transformed from a suspicious activity to a “new normal”. Meditation, as Harris predicts, will become the new health trend, and it’s already being seen now.
Aside from the “happiness” benefit achieved through meditation, there is empirical evidence revealing more benefits than just mental health nourishment. With regular practice, meditation can decrease risk of heart disease, boost immune system, and lower blood pressure. MRI scans show that meditation can increase the grey-matter density in the hippocampus: a brain structure important for learning and memory. Other brain structures associated with compassion and self-awareness showed an increase as well.
Meditation takes practice. Your straight ticket to mental and physical health can start by taking 5 minutes a day to tame that overbearing voice in your head in complete stillness. Harris clearly elaborates instructions and tips to get started near the end of his book. It’s not easy at first, but with consistency and determination, you will be rewarded with 10% improved version of yourself.