I heard about this book from a member of the book club I am a part of. After hearing of it I instantly put it in my Amazon book wish list. And I received it as a Valentine’s Day gift from my girlfriend. Such a romantic gesture, who doesn’t want a book called “10% 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” for Valentine’s Day?
To be fair, the book was on my wish list, it was an interesting read, and well, Katty (pronounced Katie) is not wrong in assessing my need for some form of self-help. I recently stressed myself out of a job that I probably should have kept. I have reached a family high weight record…and well, no need to continue…point is, I could use some help.
Did I think I could find that kind of help in a book? No. I rarely do. But I found Dan Harris’ writing style easy to read and his words sincere. It flowed much better than the last snore I picked up and much unlike that last book, I didn’t want this one to end.
The book is mostly about taming the voice in your head. The voice that told me to walk out of a nice job because I didn’t think I could handle the stress. Had I read this book four months ago I think I would still have that job and a lot more certainty about my future. But anyway, the book. Yes, the book, it focuses on taming that voice by understanding how it works, and after trying a few different options, Harris decides the best way to do that is through meditation.
Harris makes the case that every piece of information we ever process runs through the filter of our mind and some of it is assessed by the voice in our heads. Because of that, it is worth striving to figure out how that voice works, and how to tame it.
Throughout the book I admire Harris’ skepticism. He is constantly barraging spiritual leaders and gurus with the questions that matter. Even after he finds meditation to be working for him, he remains skeptical, which increases his credibility. He fights against the stereotype that the only people who meditate are monks and hippies with countless examples (including himself) and tells of large businesses and even soldiers who are devoting time to meditation.
There are a couple of things I would like to discuss from the book. The first being the claim the book makes that happiness is a skill. He makes this claim after showing evidence that meditation can alter the brain. He then says the brain, the “organ of experience, through which our entire lives are led, can be trained. Happiness is a skill.” It’s an interesting claim that I believe to be largely true. On a rabbit hunting trip I once told my dad that “happiness is 90% attitude, 10% dry socks.” Harris puts it along the lines of training oneself to respond instead of react to situations. Which sounds great, but I feel a person who just had their home destroyed by a hurricane, no matter how much of the happiness “skill” they have developed is going to be happy. Maybe I’m wrong. Some people might be really good at happiness. But that is just me cherry picking. People’s houses don’t get blown over on a daily basis, and the book says 10% happier, not 100% always happy. So maybe meditation can help people deal with tough clients, not get so angry in traffic, and sleep better at night. I’m eager to try it.
Another thing I would like to discuss is the concept of mindfulness. From my understanding, it means to live in the moment. Don’t dwell so much on the past, don’t worry so much on the future. Appreciate where you are at that point in time and experience it. Feel the desk against your elbows, the sweat from your fingertips on the keyboard, the stuffiness in the air. So much is going on, stop living life for the next destination. This is practiced during meditation. It can sound like a hippie yolo slogan at first, but the businessperson who puts the rude customer behind them sooner and focuses on the customer directly in front of them is the one who walks away with the deal.
One more thing I wanted to touch on before ending this already-too-long post is something Harris calls “nonattachment to results.” He sums it up saying “Push hard, play to win, but don’t assume the fetal position if things don’t go your way.” This combats the notion that people who meditate become ineffective drifters and offers an alternative—a person who meditates that will be solely focused on the task at hand and will be too focused on getting the job done well that the results are just that, results. That is the kind of person I want on my team, yes I want people who get results, but I don’t want somebody too distracted with results that the project gets sloppy. Do your job, do it well, and if the end result isn’t exactly what you hoped, that’s okay, it’s a moment, it’s passing, live in the next one.
I’m aware that this post is getting long-winded and very self-helpy from a guy who needs self-help. But I want to make a couple more comments. One, I would like to try meditation. Dan Harris has an app in the app store called 10% happier. I downloaded it right after finishing the book and am excited to give it a try. Two, I have tried meditation once in the past. The professor of my History of India course recommended we try it at home. I gave it a whirl and found the experience quite relaxing. It was the only time I ever tried anything in that class, and it was the only class I ever failed. But that’s where I was first introduced to meditation aside from television.
To sum it all up, great book, easy read, lots of good stuff to be found. I hope to get the rest of my book club to read it and I hope to learn meditation. Maybe one day meditation will have its own spot for blog posts on this site. Thanks for the book Katty, happy Valentine’s Day!