If you’re curious about meditation but find it confusing, the book “10% Happier” by Dan Harris can help. It uses science to explain how meditation can benefit both your body and mind, especially in our busy, stressful world.
But maybe you’re wondering if the book is worth reading.
In this review, we’ll highlight the important lessons you can learn from the book so you can decide for yourself. Let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
Lesson 1: Incorporating meditation into your daily routine can have long-lasting benefits for your emotional and cognitive well-being.
Are you tired of feeling overwhelmed by your emotions and unable to handle tough situations with a level head? It’s time to start practicing meditation and developing mindfulness skills. Not only can it help you regulate your emotions and stay present, but it can also benefit your overall cognitive abilities.
In Dan Harris’ book, 10% Happier, he shares his own experience using meditation to handle difficult situations. When a colleague criticized his public speaking skills, Harris was able to use his mindfulness skills to prevent his emotions from taking over. Instead of reacting impulsively, he asked for feedback from his boss, leading to an opportunity for growth.
Studies have shown that regular meditation practice can change the physiology of our brains. In one study at Harvard College, participants who completed an eight-week mindfulness course showed an increase in gray matter in areas responsible for self-awareness and compassion. Additionally, mindfulness training has been proven to decrease the size of brain regions that become overly active during stress.
By practicing self-compassion and forgiveness, we can make better decisions and improve our overall well-being. People who engage in self-compassion meditation are more likely to adopt healthy habits, according to research.
Furthermore, meditation can also increase our empathy and altruistic tendencies. In an experiment where participants recorded themselves over several days, meditators reported feeling more empathetic and social, using the word “I” less often. Helping others can also benefit ourselves, but it’s important to practice wisdom and avoid selfishness, as advised by the Dalai Lama.
Lesson 2: To lay aside pride is not to be a weakling or a loser.
Some people may think that the Buddhist concept of “letting go” means being weak or giving up. According to American author and psychotherapist Marc Epstein, some of his Buddhist patients avoided expressing their preferences in small ways, like not having orgasms during sex or not ordering their own food at restaurants. It’s possible that they felt they couldn’t be blamed for their own unhappiness.
However, “letting go” doesn’t mean giving up your own identity or always meeting others’ expectations. Indian mystic and philosopher Munindra taught a “simple and easy” approach to life. One of his students once overheard him arguing with someone over a bag of peanuts at the supermarket. The student said, “You violated the mantra of simplicity and ease.” The teacher replied, “I said be simple, not a simpleton!”
Having a healthy self-esteem doesn’t mean you can’t make a positive impact on the world. Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn believes that mindfulness practice can improve creativity and productivity by clearing the mind of negative assumptions and habits. The author experienced this firsthand after 10 days of meditation, during which they filled several notebooks with new ideas and were much more organized and focused than usual.
The author also learned that they could achieve their goals without constantly striving to win and that denying themselves certain cravings could be more beneficial than giving in to them.
Lesson 3: Practiced regularly, meditation can reduce the effects of stress and disease on the body.
Meditation is good for both your mind and body. We all have a “fight or flight” response when we feel threatened, but modern life presents different types of threats than we faced in the past. Even though the threats we face today are different, the physiological effects of stress on the body remain unchanged. When we’re overstimulated, our bodies produce stress chemicals that can be harmful to our health.
Meditation can help reduce stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which in turn lowers blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease. There’s also evidence that meditation can increase empathy and compassion, which can carry over into daily life.
For example, when you’re stuck in a frustrating traffic jam on the way to work, most people get angry and upset. But if you’ve practiced mindfulness, you can stay calm and respond rationally instead of reacting emotionally.
Regular meditation has been shown to have a wide range of health benefits, including helping with depression, substance abuse, binge eating, smoking cessation, anxiety for cancer patients, and loneliness in older people. It can also improve conditions like ADD/ADHD, asthma, psoriasis, and irritable bowel syndrome.
By practicing meditation regularly, you can improve your mental strength, self-control, and overall well-being. It can also shape your perception of the world and your own experiences.
Lesson 4: Recognize that you are feeling down, but do not try to remain in it.
Although meditation can be helpful, it’s not a solution for everything. If you’re feeling negative emotions, is there anything you can do to feel better? Psychotherapist and Buddhist teacher Tara Brach suggests acknowledging and accepting unpleasant feelings rather than trying to repress or ignore them.
In Buddhism, “letting go” is better understood as “letting be.” This means accepting your flaws and negative emotions without judgment, but not necessarily trying to force yourself to like them. Another Buddhist saying is that the only way out is the one you choose for yourself. Imagine you’re being overwhelmed by negative feelings, like a tidal wave. One way to get through it is to face it head-on.
The author learned this lesson the hard way when they turned to drugs to cope with the trauma of covering a war zone. Their ineffective way of managing anxiety led to a panic attack during a live broadcast.
Instead of trying to confront negative emotions directly, which can sometimes backfire, Tara Brach recommends following a four-step process: acknowledge the emotion, give it permission to exist, explore its meaning, and move away from it.
For example, when the author had anxiety about a promotion, he first became aware of his fears. This led him to eventually convince himself that his fears were justified. Next, he asked himself why he was feeling a buzzing sensation in his chest and realized it was because he was afraid. Finally, he let go of his identification with the emotion and remembered that he was more than his circumstances. This realization helped the author overcome his fears and take control of his life.
1. The ‘Why’ Before the ‘How’
One of the unique things about 10% Happier is that Harris doesn’t just dive into the ‘how’ of meditation. Instead, he spends the first half of the book exploring the ‘why’ behind it. By doing so, he helps readers understand the scientific validation behind the practice and his own personal journey towards embracing it. This approach makes the ‘how’ of meditation all the more meaningful when he gets to it in the second half.
2. New Language to Talk About Meditation
Harris is a master at taking something that can seem “woo woo or far out there” and making it more understandable. He gives readers a new language to talk about meditation so they can share the benefits with others who may not have experienced it yet. As someone who has practiced meditation for over 25 years, even I found his approach refreshing and helpful.
3. Sharp and Hilarious Insights
As a former war correspondent and Nightline news anchor, Harris has a unique way of looking at mindfulness that is unparalleled in popular literature on the subject. His sharp and humorous observations about the practice, as well as his fellow retreat participants, provide moments of hilarity throughout the book. But amidst the humor, there are also poignant insights about his struggles with anxiety and the journey towards finding inner peace.
1. Lack of Practical Advice
The book’s title suggests that it is a self-help book that offers practical tips and strategies for reducing stress and calming the mind. However, the book is primarily a memoir about the author’s personal journey. While Harris does offer some practical advice, it is buried within his personal anecdotes and experiences. For readers seeking more practical advice, they may find themselves disappointed by the lack of clear, actionable steps.
2. Excessive Name-Dropping and Big Words
Throughout the book, Harris frequently name-drops celebrities, journalists, and other public figures to illustrate his point. While some readers may find these stories interesting, others may find them unnecessary and detracting from the book’s overall purpose. Additionally, the author frequently uses unnecessarily complex vocabulary that can be off-putting for readers who are new to mindfulness and meditation.
3. Not Enough Substance
The book’s content is relatively shallow, and Harris spends a lot of time recounting his personal experiences and less time offering practical tips or in-depth discussion of meditation and mindfulness. The last third of the book, in particular, feels slow and repetitive. Readers who are seeking a more in-depth exploration of mindfulness and meditation may feel unsatisfied with the book’s lack of substance.
10% Happier may not be for everyone, but it definitely has its merits. While some readers may find it to be more of an autobiography than a self-help book, it offers a unique perspective on the benefits of mindfulness and meditation.
Dan Harris’ journey toward finding inner peace and reducing stress is relatable and humorous, making it an easy and enjoyable read. Plus, his personal tips and tricks at the end of the book provide a great starting point for those interested in exploring mindfulness further.
So, if you’re looking for a new way to approach life and reduce stress, give 10% Happier a try.
Dan Harris, a news anchor, has made appearances on various American TV shows like Nightline and ABC News. He’s been recognized for his outstanding journalism and received many honors and awards for his coverage of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Buy The Book: 10% Happier
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