10% Happier (aka the voice in my head is an asshole)

Cover of 10% Happier book 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works.

Right at the start the author, ABC anchor Dan Harris, tells us he originally wanted to name the book “The Voice in My Head is an Asshole.” It was thus right at the start that I knew I would like the book.

Dan best sums up the impetus for the book in a NYT interview, “The preamble is I had a panic attack on national television in front of five million people. I learned that the reason for the panic attack was because I was self-medicating [NB: with cocaine and ecstasy] due to so much stress, which was raising the level of adrenaline in my brain. At around the same time, I was assigned to do a series on religion for ABC that sent me into a journey of self-help. This eventually led to Buddhism and meditation and a series of brain exercises that changed my life, and, as the title of the book says, made me 10 percent happier.”

Alright, skeptical reader. You might already be zoning out, convinced this is just a bunch of hippie-dippy BS. But truly, it’s not. Dan wasn’t interested in meditation to become closer to nature, or the infinite oneness, or anything like that (quite the opposite, actually – he was totally turned off by that talk [I’m not, but he is]) — he was interested in figuring out a way to remain on his A-game in a super competitive industry while actually being a happier, less freaked-out, stressed-out person, and not-always-so compassionate person.

I tried out the meditation exercise he puts in there (sit with your back straight, focus on your breathing and where you feel it [nose, chest, stomach, etc.], and every time you start thinking about something other than your breathing [which will happen, oh, a million times] recognize that you’re drifting and just gently bring yourself back to focusing on your breath) and it not easy. Not easy but a totally interesting exercise. Right away I saw how insane my mental churning is. It’s constant! Thinking about the future, remembering something that happened, wondering if I should have done it differently, thinking about what will happen next week, whether I’ll survive spin class, projecting some fantasy-future scenario in my head and living in that scenario instead of being present, anticipating, etc. It’s amazing. And stopping to realize that churning was useful. The next step is to note/name each thought for what it is. A Fantasy. A Worry. Hoping. Stressing. Somehow by stepping back and seeing the thoughts for what they are defangs them. It creates space between you (whatever that is) and this incessant thinking and gives you a chance to reflect before reacting.

Anyway, the book was well written, a quick read, super funny, honest, and useful. I recommend giving it a chance.

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