10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works by Dan Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the story of Dan Harris's self development. His need for thinking over how he was living his life was prompted by a few panic attacks on live television (he works with ABC Broadcasting). As he seeks medical help, he realizes what his habit of drug abuse and competitive lifestyle is doing to him. He next reads Eckhart Tolle's "A New Earth" and also meets him for an interview. While interested in what Eckhart Tolle tells him, he regards his views as incomplete with no techniques for being “here and now” which Tolle advocates. He next meets Deepak Chopra and finds him unimpressive as well. He is even more forthright in condemning "The Secret" film as being simplistic, incorrect and of little value. He goes on to dismiss most of the “Self Help” industry as hardly worth even a mention – primarily cooking up incomplete and ineffective theories and dishing them out to a gullible and desperate people.
He next reads the work of Dr Mark Epstein based on advice from his wife on Buddhist practices with focus on meditation which interests him. He meets Mark and over time their families become good friends. He goes on to a retreat which changes his outlook to life. He builds on the gains from the retreat incrementally – all the time reading more and introducing more aspects in his meditation practice. His meeting with the Dalai Lama is one such turning point where the Dalai Lama explains the concept of compassion for others – even on a purely selfish note you need to do good for others since it is very good for you ultimately!
As he makes significant progress in turning around his life, he still has many questions for which he often turns to Mark. One of these is the concern that turning to meditation might make him less competitive as it conjures up images of monks and robed people who seem to be removed from the real world. Over time he realizes that none of this is a call to give up right and appropriate action. As he brings in the principles of compassion with meditation in his life, he finds his relationships as well his work situation getting a lot better.
Associated with ABC, he takes the lead in researching and broadcasting stories on Mindfulness. During the course of his research, he finds that a large number of leading corporates have already incorporated Mindfulness training as part of their employee development initiatives. While they have branded their programs separately with a secularized program without the need for religious chanting, the basic principles remain the same. There is now a large body of research indicating that such practices actually rewire the brain with major benefits.
This is a book which is unpretentious and very conversational. I loved reading it and can relate to it based on personal experiences as well. However, his being dismissive of Tolle and Deepak Chopra does not feel right especially based on his limited interaction. In fact while he read Tolle's book, he reads nothing of Deepak Chopra, instead basing his opinion on his reading of his personality and commercial success. As he points out in the book, he is wrong on numerous occasions on his analysis of people. There is also inadequate material on alternative meditation techniques and experiences of others besides himself though he alludes to it in the afterword (including practices derived from Hinduism). That said, his overall conclusions ring true and he is certainly right about most of the literature we regard as “Self Help”.
In today's age, this is an excellent book to read. It brings to the mainstream questions and issues most working people have – the search for purpose, stress, and relationships. It also brings to the fore another important point – the wisdom of the ages dismissed by the waves of modernity, and deserving another look. You may just find that the secret to a right life was known long ago – hidden away in classics and practices which nobody bothers to look at any more.
He discusses the problems in making such practices mainstream. In fact when he first tells people he has taken up meditation they look at him strangely. This is because such practices with origins in Eastern philosophies are associated with either robed monks or hippies. He decides a better way is to say that he has started a practice which has made him 10% happier.
Overall, a book I strongly recommend you read. If it helps you seek a practice of your own, you might just find that it could certainly make you more than 10% happier.
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