The title of this book was intriguing. I think we could all stand to be 10% happier. It was nominated for a Goodreads 2014 in nonfiction which is what originally drew my eye. I was on a 20+ person waiting list on Overdrive for the book but got it off Hoopla as soon as I wanted it. (Note: If you have a library card, explore your digital ending options. Some are superior to others, in my opinion.)
Summary from Goodreads:
After having a nationally televised panic attack on Good Morning America, Dan Harris knew he had to make some changes. After learning about research that suggests meditation can do everything from lower your blood pressure to essentially rewire your brain, Harris took a deep dive into the underreported world of CEOs, scientists, and even marines who are now using it for increased calm, focus, and happiness. 10% Happier takes readers on a ride from the outer reaches of neuroscience to the inner sanctum of network news to the bizarre fringes of America’s spiritual scene, and leaves them with a takeaway that could actually change their lives.
I had never heard of Dan Harris before reading this book. I’m not a big fan of TV news, which is probably the major reason. I had no idea he’d been a figure on NBC for years and I had a little understanding of how that would affect his emotional state and personality. I liked Dan and he was very honest in this book, which read more like a memoir than a self-help book. Dan’s simple answer is meditation. While meditation is usually associated with Buddhist monks and many of those Dan interacts with are Buddhists, I don’t believe that the brand of meditation he subscribes to is in conflict with any person’s belief system. It’s a simple 30-minute exercise of clearing his mind, focusing on his breath and slowing everything down to a pace where his focus remains in the ‘now’ instead of worrying about the past or future. It’s something that might be helpful to me and my constant worrying about things coming up and dwelling on what’s already happened.
Dan portrayed himself in a very real and honest way. He refrained from saying too much about others or passing judgment on as many as he could and still tell his story. I liked that he didn’t go too in-depth about his wife or family and left them out of his story (95% of the time). He kept the focus very strongly on his journey to finding a form of meditation that worked for him.
I thought Dan portrayed the JewBu’s in a very positive way. This was a subculture I knew nothing about and he gave them a great light. I still think it’s odd that so many Jews embraced Buddhism with such fervor and I liked how Dan felt comfortable with this subculture.
It was hard for me to relate to any of the characters too deeply. That’s part of what I love about memoirs. I don’t have to be similar to the person or relate to their story to appreciate what they have to say. I think Dan’s journey is great. I don’t know if I would ever go through the same thing (especially because he says his initial downturn was because of recreational drug use) but it’s interesting to hear about how he recovered and what he found on the other side.
I really enjoyed Dan’s story about his first retreat. He entered the week with skepticism similar to mine upon hearing the story. I like how he described recognizing his pain and it felt very real to me. It made me think of how I would feel in a similarly unfamiliar circumstance. One of my priests at church told me about a silent retreat they do as seminarians. They can bring a Bible, but any other books are a distraction from the prayer and study that should happen that weekend. This kept popping into my head as Dan told about his time on the retreat.
It was hard to hear about Dan’s addiction and struggles with drugs. It was reassuring knowing that he came out on the other side alright (assuming so as he narrated the audiobook), but it’s still hard to hear how that affected his life.
Harris narrating the audiobook himself was nice. He gave great inflection to his stories and the sarcastic tone he carried for a large part of it. One of his supervisors tells him at one point that he’ll never be an evening news anchor because his voice is too grating and I have to agree. I thought that after seven hours, he was a bit much.
I like the idea of what Dan is selling, but I didn’t 100% buy it. Maybe meditation would make me happier and help me approach life in a healthier manner. Or it could be a chunk of my day I don’t get back. It could be a long learning curve for me to get to a productive part of my study that would be more frustrating than rewarding while I’m going through it. It could be a lot of things. I’m not sure I’ll try it, but it’s nice to know that option is out there.
Writer’s Takeaway: I don’t think I would have read a self-help book on meditation, but I will pick up almost any memoir. I appreciated that Dan didn’t write one of the self-help books he reported on for so long and instead told us about his life and how he found something that worked for him. It was a good format for his message and I really appreciated that.
I liked the book and the story, but I’m not sure it will impact me going forward. Three out of Five Stars.
Until next time, write on.