Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday #4: "Ten Percent Happier" by Dan Harris


Dear kids,

Anyone can meditate–even an agnostic. Even an atheist. Even a famous atheist with a drug problem. Ten Percent Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story by Dan Harris convinces us that meditation is for the people.

Dan Harris is a well-known news anchor, an atheist (agnostic?) and a workaholic. Ten Percent Happier is the result of his personal quest for self-improvement through meditation. He starts by relating the turbulent life journey that caused him to seek out this form of therapy, which included drugs and an extremely high stress work environment.

He describes his basic meditation technique: Choose a place to focus on along with your breath—your mouth, your chest or your belly—and gently, non-judgmentally bring your attention back to it whenever your mind wanders. (You can also say “in” and “out” silently if it helps.)

He also describes his “pro” technique: First, ground yourself by focusing on the breath. Then start “noting”—noticing and labeling—each and every thought or dominant feeling you become aware of, without judgment. He calls this “choiceless awareness,” and it’s the technique that led to a great breakthrough that he describes in the book. As you get better at this, you can do it with extreme rapidity. It keeps you very focused and in the moment, almost completely unable to identify with the mind.

Harris also stresses the importance of not worrying about how you feel when you’re meditating (whether or not you feel relaxed, spiritually aware, etc.). If you’re redirecting your attention to your breath every time your mind wanders, your time of meditation was successful. “That’s the whole game.”

The point of meditation isn’t to feel something; instead, it is merely to try. With each session, you build your meditation muscle, like you do when practicing piano or a sport.

At one point, he discusses his interviews with famous meditators and gurus, including Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra.

He also describes the experience of going on a ten-day meditation retreat. Most of the time, he was miserable. Finally he realized the reason: He was trying too hard. When he decided to just “be with” whatever was happening, he broke through the misery and had a tearful awareness of love.

Harris also briefly discusses various studies of the brain-changing effects of meditation, including some that later convince him the state of enlightenment is real.

Harris’ conclusion: Meditation helps you become about ten percent happier. He says he went from being a jerk at work to hearing colleagues calling him one of the “easy” news correspondents.

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  1. Eh, other forms of meditation have a rather more striking affect on happiness:

    “Perhaps even more remarkable, last year’s California Healthy Kids Survey from the state’s education department found that students at Visitacion Valley middle school were the happiest in the whole of San Francisco.”

    This is despite the fact that “Most of the students in our school have a family member who has been shot, who did the shooting, or who saw a shooting.”

    1. Thanks for that. I agree. I love the book, but there’s more to the story. It’s a fun read, though, and great for skeptics, as he once was. What is your favorite book on meditation?