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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 Hardcover – March 11, 2014
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Gretchin Rubin interviews Dan Harris about 10% Happier
I met Dan Harris when a mutual friend suggested that we’d enjoy talking about habits, happiness, and meditation. We had a great discussion, and in fact, Dan was one of several people who inspired me to try meditating. 10% Happier is his hilarious, thought-provoking book about his experiences with meditation. I knew Dan had done a lot of thinking about the relationship of habits and happiness, and how to use habits to foster happiness, so I was eager to hear what he had to say.
Gretchen: What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?
Dan: I never in a million years thought I’d be the type of person who’d say this, but my answer is … meditation.I had always assumed that meditation was for robed gurus, acid-droppers, and people who keep yurts in their backyard. But then I heard about the explosion of scientific research that shows the practice has an almost laughably long list of health benefits, from lowering your blood pressure to boosting your immune system to essentially rewiring your brain for happiness. I started with five minutes a day, and very quickly noticed three benefits: 1. Increased focus, 2. A greater sense of calm, and 3. A vastly improved ability to jolt myself out of rumination and fantasies about the past or the future, and back to whatever was happening right in front of my face.Over time (I’ve now been at it for about four years and do 35 minutes a day), an even more substantial benefit kicked in: I created a different relationship to the voice in my head. You know the voice I’m talking about. It’s what has us reaching into the fridge when we’re not hungry, checking our e-mail while we’re in conversation with other people, and losing our temper only to regret it later. The ability to see what’s going on in your head at any given moment without reacting to it blindly—often called “mindfulness”—is a superpower.I’m certainly not arguing that meditation is a panacea. I still do tons of stupid stuff – as my wife will attest. But the practice has definitely made me happier, calmer, and nicer.
Gretchen: What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Dan: A neuroscientist friend of mine once told me, “The brain is a pleasure-seeking machine. ” Usually, we do what makes us feel good. What I know now about habit formation that I didn’t know then is that I generally cannot create or break habits unless there is compelling self-interest involved.So, for example, with meditation, I was motivated to start the habit by the science that says it’s good for you—and I’ve been able to maintain it because, while the act of meditating is often quite tough, the “off-the-cushion” benefits are so readily apparent to me.
Gretchen: Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?
Dan: Two biggies:1. Multitasking: I’ve seen all the studies that say our brains are not capable of concentrating on more than one thing at a time and that multitasking is a huge drag on efficiency and productivity. And yet, I still frequently find myself flitting between email, Twitter, phone calls, and whatever work I’m actually supposed to be doing.2. Mindless eating: I try very hard to eat healthfully, but I am a huge sucker for pasta, cheeseburgers, and cookies—and when I get into a feeding frenzy, it’s hard for me to stop. These episodes are almost always followed by a shame spiral.In theory, meditation should help with the above, since it teaches you to pay careful attention to whatever you’re doing right now. Alas, I still struggle. Hence the title of my book.
Gretchen: Have you ever managed to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how?
Dan: In my early thirties, as a young reporter for ABC News, I spent many years covering wars. When I got back from one particularly long and hairy run in Baghdad, I became depressed. In an act of towering stupidity, I began to self-medicate, dabbling with cocaine and ecstasy. In hindsight, it was an attempt, at least partly, to recreate some of the thrill of the war zone.A side-effect of all of this, as my doctor later explained to me, was that the drugs increased the level of adrenaline in my brain, which is what, in all likelihood, produced a panic attack I had on live television in 2004 on Good Morning America. The shrink I consulted about this decreed in no uncertain terms that I needed to stop doing drugs—immediately. Faced with the potential demise of my career, breaking this habit was a pretty obvious call.
Gretchen: Have you ever made a flash change, where you changed a major habit very suddenly?
Dan: In the summer after I graduated from high school, I did experience a “flash change. ” I was in my car, driving to go see some friends, and I decided—seemingly out of nowhere—that after years of being a mediocre high school student, I was going to truly apply myself in the next phase of my life. The next year, when my father saw my first college report card, he nearly cried.Interestingly, the fact that I did well in college has had zero practical impact on my career in television news. I don’t think any of my employers has ever asked about my grades. But that flash change established a long-lasting habit of hard work and ambition. Which, it must be said, has sometimes been to my detriment. It was, I now believe, my fervent desire to excel at my job that led me to plunge headlong into war zones without considering the psychological consequences—which, in turn, led to the drugs and the panic attack. I’ve found that meditation has really helped me strike a better balance between striving and stress.
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- If you are someone who is actually seeking advice on meditation technique, DO NOT buy this book. Even if you are a type-A, work-in-high-stress-situations-type, you would benefit much more from an author such as Jack Kornfield, who actually gives you undiluted Buddhist technique written in an incredibly user-friendly way. Jack gives you clear directions and rationale for why certain meditation techniques work. You'll try a few and see which ones work for you, and not use the rest. This book does not give you meditation instruction that works universally.
- The book ends with a a list of mindfulness "how-to's." The problem with this list is that, unlike the list of a truly experienced meditator who has the ability to distill really hard stuff into universally applicable guidance, Dan's list is HIS list. It didn't resonate for me. "Don't be a jerk" - that's not something that'll pop up in my head when someone is cutting me off on the highway. "Hide the Zen." "Meditate." (Seriously??) "The price of security is insecurity" - this is something of a Harris family catchphrase, but has absolutely zero meaning to me. Reading this book versus, say, The Joy of Living is akin to the experience of going to an university-level calculus class that's taught by the best professor in the school versus a crappy TA. A great teacher can boil really, really hard stuff down to a level that anyone can enjoy. A bad TA has you falling asleep in your chair. This book was written by the TA.
- A massive amount of this story is about how Dan Harris found Buddhism.Read more ›
Having said the above the final 2/3 of the book is excellent and makes for compelling reading. This makes up for the early part and if you read this book I recommend you skim through it and get to the good stuff. Minus the early part of the book I could have easily given it 5 stars.
This should be considered an introduction and a fairly inspiring introduction to the methods and benefits of mediation. It is not an in-depth review by any stretch but a story of one person's discovery of the benefits of meditation and some concepts of Buddhism.
I love Dan's honesty throughout this book. He allows the reader to see inside his mind by providing punchy commentary along with relaying conversations with spiritual leaders we are all curious about. It's comforting to know that someone as brilliant and successful as Dan struggles with the same noisy and critical internal voices. I've struggled with the "woo woo" books about mediation, but this book presents a relatable journey.
10% Happier is also entertaining and full of wit. I don't share Dan's (lack) of spiritual beliefs, but I can certainly respect his perspective and follow his journey to discovering the benefits of Buddhism and mediation. The conversation with religious leaders are revealing. Years ago, I read William Elliott's Tying Rocks to Clouds and enjoyed a similar tag-along journey of someone exploring big questions by interviewing the people we value as leaders. I'm envious of both authors for having the opportunity to ask meaningful questions of a variety of spiritual/religious/scientific leaders.
I recommend this book to anyone curious about mediation. It's not for the experts who already experience the benefits of quieting the mind. It's for the curious, the modern, over-busy, success-driven American. It's a friend telling you his story in hopes of helping you become happier.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I have a whole new respect for Dan and I'm grateful to him for sharing the good bad and ugly. Really encouraged me on my own journey. Thanks, Dan.Published 1 day ago by sharon
have ordered 21 copies and given them out to my family and friends. I love the fact that he is a cynic.Published 2 days ago by nestor de la Cruz-Munoz
Kind of long winded took a long time to get to the point. Sorry DanPublished 3 days ago by Amazon Customer
Very good and straightforward. For all those who question all spiritual practices yet need to find a way to cope with themselves, as me!Published 3 days ago by Gix
Nice read, fun, insightful and encouraging. Enjoyed the book immenselyPublished 3 days ago by John Bell