Hardened spirituality skeptic Dan Harris set out on a quest to tame his mind, stumbling upon meditation to find to his shock he actually felt more calm and in control. He decided to share his discovery with the world, starting with better understanding the science of meditation so he could convince fellow skeptics to join the meditation band wagon. Readers are taken on a journey through self help and science through interviews with self help experts, the military and the scientific community to better understand why meditation is so effective and how they can also reap the benefits.
“10% Happier” takes a magnifying glass to your everyday life. It targets that incessant driving force keeping you so busy. Dan Harris’ self-help book preys upon the doubters, the cynics, the pessimists. It challenges the common mindset that meditation is just absent-minded people sitting cross-legged and chanting “ohm”. It does all this, but keeps you laughing. It’s an elegant combination of Harris’ personal journey, and overwhelming scientific evidence for the efficacy of meditation in the modern-day world. The book ends with a so-called “meditation for dummies” section; a beginner’s guide.
We live in a world surrounded by so much stress and panic that our emotions can overwhelm us, causing us to make decisions that we later regret, and turning a perfectly good day into the worst day ever just because of our thoughts and emotions. Learn how to manage your emotions and avoid these scenarios through the ancient art of meditation. Meditation isn’t a new-age fad, it’s been around for centuries and indeed, scientific studies showing that meditation along with mindfulness can greatly improve your mental and physical health (even going so far as to prevent you from having a heart attack) and can even make you more productive.
Along the way of teaching you how to manage your emotions and conquer your ego, Dan Harris also shares why being selfish isn’t such a bad thing and how you can increase your compassion, ultimately guiding you on your way to a more fulfilling, compassionate, and productive life.
Key Takeaways from “10% Happier" by Dan Harris
Takeaway #1 Manage Your Ego To Manage Your Life
For most people, the ego is a source of self-serving behavior that is unconcerned with the welfare of others. It's the place of pride, conceit, and supposedly self love. It balances our morality and our base desires. It's the voice in our head that comments on our actions. It thrives on negative emotions and is never perfectly happy or content, always wanting more, always assessing, always dwelling on past events or dreaming of the future. It must be tamed so that a happier, healthier life can be enjoyed.
Takeaway #2 Use Meditation to Achieve Mindfulness and Manage Your Ego
Mindfulness can be found through meditation, the simple act of sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing, drawing your mind back to your breathing when it wanders off. It gives us a chance to lower the blood pressure, lower our stress levels, leave the panic and worry behind and can be very beneficial for people battling depression, addiction, and many other health issues.
Being mindful allows you to be non-judgmental, to respond rather than react to surroundings, loved ones, and impulses by remaining in the present moment. It allows you to ask how you can improve your behavior rather than lashing out in anger because you feel attacked or threatened. Being more mindful improves decision making, improves compassion toward others, makes you more creative and productive and actually changes your biology.
Takeaway #3 Accepting Your Negative Emotions Will Tame Your Ego
You might think that you need to avoid negative thoughts and emotions at all costs if you want to tame your ego but the opposite is true. Acknowledge the feelings and simply let them be – Admit that you're feeling them, don't try to hide or run away from feeling angry or sad and don't judge yourself for feeling that way. The fastest way to let go of these negative emotions is to ride them out. First, you must recognize the feeling for what it is – Get specific and allow yourself to feel it, it's natural to feel worried or sorrowful sometimes. Then identify how this feeling is manifesting in your body, is it a tightness, a feeling in your stomach or chest, has your breathing become faster? Notice what the feeling feels like, and then practice non-identification with the feeling. Know that it will pass, that you won't feel this way forever.
Key Points From 10% Happier
- The ego is greedy. It spurs you on, and keeps you hungry. But it stops you from being grounded. You’re always looking ahead. It could be the ego’s critical voice getting you down. To be 10% happier, learn to manage it.
- Mindfulness is the key to gaining mastery. It brings you back to the present. Meditation is about being comfortable, and focusing on your breathing or other bodily sensations. When your mind wanders off, gently bring it back to center
- With meditation, you can control your physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing.
- Practicing mindfulness changes your brain structure. It encourages healthy life choices, and increases your creativity and productivity. You’ll become more compassionate and less selfish.
- Don’t shy away from the negative thoughts and feelings, run head-first into them. Use Brach’s four-step method to achieve this.
In-Depth Lessons from 10% Happier
Lesson #1. Your Ego Tells You What To Do
The word ‘ego’ is bandied about quite often today, our personal shortcomings often blamed on the ego however, since it’s also our source of self-worth, pride, self-love, and conceit, it’s safe to say our ego has many overtones, many people seeing their ego as their source of behavior, the source of their deep desire or fiery pride. Sigmund Freud believed that the ego was a psychological machine that moved between keeping our morals intact and giving us our base desires but none of these definitions quite get to the heart of the ego when we can’t explain why it’s our ego that makes us open the fridge to stare inside without being hungry!
Think of your ego as that little voice in your head that manifests through your thoughts and you’ll gain the most insight into your behavior as it’s this voice that is responsible for telling you what to do (and what not to do) from the moment you wake up until the moment you fall asleep. It’s the voice that tells you “I can’t be bothered to go to the gym today, I’ll just go tomorrow instead” and at the same time, tells you to lose weight!
Essentially, you want to discover how to reign your ego in so that you can be happier and healthier.
Lesson #2. Your Ego Will Never Be Satisfied
Your ego is designed so that it will always want more, it can never be content, satisfied, or 100% happy. Feed it something new and it resets its baseline for desire, immediately wanting more be that more chocolate, more money, or a ‘better’ partner. You can be the richest person in the world, have all the latest gadgets, have the best house in the neighborhood, the best food, and have all the love in the world but as soon as you have it, your ego will crave more.
Your ego obsesses over the past, thriving on drama, and also consumes your future, neglecting to see what you have in the present moment which is why you dwell on past events such as being ditched by an ex despite being happily married now and complain about work problems over dinner.
Your ego is also always assessing your wealth, social status, and appearance against others, always finding someone better than you whether your ego deems them smarter, richer, funnier, or a better parent/spouse/child which is why you feel the need to strive to be a better person. Even when you succeed in getting what your ego wants, you won’t be happy since the ego is never happy - this is the reason why so many rich, famous, and fortunate people who seemingly have everything either kill themselves, become addicted to drugs or alcohol, or ruin their lives in other ways.
Lesson #3. Practise Mindfulness and Compassion to Control Your Ego
The life-enhancing skill of mindfulness, when we respond calmly rather than react angrily to our impulses and surroundings, is learned through the practice of meditation thanks to meditation immersing us in the present moment.
A Harvard MRI study showed that mindfulness improves our decision making and changes our biology as people who took an 8 week mindfulness/meditation course developed thicker gray matter in the parts of the brain that deal with self-awareness and compassion, whilst the areas of the brain that deal with stress, shrank resulting in more compassionate behavior. Participants were also more empathic, laughed more, and used the word ‘I’ less.
Being compassionate to yourself helps you become healthier whilst being compassionate to other people, helps you feel more fulfilled so being more mindful is a win-win situation for everyone.
Lesson #4. Taming Your Ego Doesn’t Mean You’ll Become a Pushover
After taming your ego, otherwise known as ‘letting go’, many people think they’ll be less effective in life, becoming a pushover but controlling your ego does not mean that you forget about your own needs and allow yourself to be used by people nor does it mean losing your edge at work or being unproductive in life.
In fact, practicing mindfulness will make you more creative and more productive as you’ll rid yourself of unhelpful routines, assumptions, and the need to compete which frees up space for new ideas and better thoughts resulting in increased productivity - don’t be surprised if you find yourself filling up notepads with idea after idea after you rid yourself of the heavy burden of stress!
Lesson #5. Meditation Increases Mindfulness and Compassion
Perhaps you've tried meditation in the past but gave up as your mind would continually wander - don’t worry, this is perfectly normal. All you have to do is refocus your mind on your breathing without judging yourself for having those thoughts.
In Buddhism, we have 3 habitual responses to everything we experience in life those responses being:
Desire - We want something at gut level such as that delicious looking piece of cake.
Rejection - We reject things such as biting mosquitoes!
Indifference - We zone out listening to a boring presentation at work.
By meditating you gain a 4th habitual response - you learn how to observe without judgment.
When you first begin meditating, you’ll experience mindfulness by experiencing some physical discomfort and having to observe the discomfort rather than reacting or moving to ease it, for example, rather than scratching an itch, you let it be until the sensation goes away. With practice though, mindfulness allows you to deal with more complex discomforts namely your emotions and thoughts.
After committing to a meditation practice you’ll soon find yourself with increased levels of compassion, and if you don’t notice it, others around you will! You’ll be kinder to yourself and those around you.. You’ll be more likely to avoid gossip, will get less annoyed by people’s idiosyncrasies, and feel more empathy towards the human race.
Lesson #6. Meditation Is Good For Your Body
Living in our modern world means that we’re constantly stimulated, always living in a state of overload but yoga, can help combat the harmful effects of daily life, not only being good for the mind and soul by increasing our empathy and patience as already discussed but having a profound effect on the body too. Meditation has been proven to reduce high levels of toxic stress by lowering our blood pressure and therefore, reducing our risk of heart disease. It can also be beneficial in battling depression, addiction, cancer, and can stem the effects of IBS, ADHD, asthma, psoriasis, and even loneliness in senior citizens.
Before practicing mindfulness, you might have become angry and frustrated at traffic jams, experiencing road rage, punching the steering wheel, or just huffing and puffing behind the wheel, the world learning of your wrath as soon as you exited the car which would have a harmful effect on your body long term. After practicing mindfulness through meditation, events such as traffic jams no longer consume your thoughts, you won’t react when things go wrong and feelings of anger will not take hold so that you can remain peacefully calm and therefore, healthier.
Lesson #7. Accept Your Negative Emotions But Don’t Identify With Them
Although fantastic for your health and wellbeing, meditation is not going to magically cure all of your negative emotions. When Buddhists say ‘let go’ of your negative feelings what they really mean is ‘let them be’, don’t deny the feelings by trying to shut them down, and don’t judge yourself for having them. The only way to successfully navigate our negative thoughts and feelings is by going through them, acknowledging the sorrow, anger etc. Dive into the uncomfortable emotion just as you would dive into a wave in the ocean to lessen its power and hold over you.
There are 4 stages to accepting negative emotions - the first is recognizing the emotion for example, are you worried, fearful or angry? The second is allowing the feeling to exist, letting yourself know that it’s ok to feel like this. Thirdly you investigate how the emotion affects you, do you have sweaty palms or a tightness in your throat? Lastly, you separate yourself from the emotion through non-identification, telling yourself that this feeling and moment will pass, that you’re not going to feel angry or fearful for the rest of your life.
By moving through the 4 stages outlined above, you conquer your negative emotions and by committing to your meditation and mindfulness practice, you begin to conquer your ego.
10% Happier Chapters
Chapter One - Air Hunger
Chapter Two - Unchurched
Chapter Three - Genius or Lunatic?
Chapter Four - Happiness, Inc.
Chapter Five - The Jew-Bu
Chapter Six - The Power of Negative Thinking
Chapter Seven - Retreat
Chapter Eight - 10% Happier
Chapter Nine - "The New Caffeine"
Chapter Ten - The Self-Interested Case for Not Being a Dick
Chapter Eleven - Hide the Zen
Best Quotes from 10% Happier
“Make the present moment your friend rather than your enemy. Because many people live habitually as if the present moment were an obstacle that they need to overcome in order to get to the next moment. And imagine living your whole life like that, where always this moment is never quite right, not good enough because you need to get to the next one. That is continuous stress.”
“When you have one foot in the future and the other in the past, you piss on the present.”
“What mindfulness does is create some space in your head so you can, as the Buddhists say, “respond” rather than simply “react.” In the Buddhist view, you can’t control what comes up in your head; it all arises out of a mysterious void. We spend a lot of time judging ourselves harshly for feelings that we had no role in summoning. The only thing you can control is how you handle it.”
“There’s no point in being unhappy about things you can’t change, and no point being unhappy about things you can.”
“Pursuit of happiness becomes the source of our unhappiness.”
“Striving is fine, as long as it’s tempered by the realization that, in an entropic universe, the final outcome is out of your control. If you don’t waste your energy on variables you cannot influence, you can focus much more effectively on those you can. When you are wisely ambitious, you do everything you can to succeed, but you are not attached to the outcome—so that if you fail, you will be maximally resilient, able to get up, dust yourself off, and get back in the fray. That, to use a loaded term, is enlightened self-interest.”
“But it was in this moment, lying in bed late at night, that I first realized that the voice in my head—the running commentary that had dominated my field of consciousness since I could remember—was kind of an asshole.”
“Meditation is not about feeling a certain way. It’s about feeling the way you feel.”
“Your demons may have been ejected from the building, but they’re out in the parking lot, doing push-ups.”
“Everything in the world is ultimately unsatisfying and unreliable because it won’t last.”
“May you be happy. May you be safe and protected from harm. May you be healthy and strong. May you live with ease.”
“The Buddha captured it well when he said that anger, which can be so seductive at first, has “a honeyed tip” but a “poisoned root.”
― Dan Harris - 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found a Self-Help That Actually Works
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Editor and Founder
Tal Gur is a location independent entrepreneur, author, and impact investor. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His most recent book and bestseller, The Art of Fully Living - 1 Man, 10 Years, 100 Life Goals Around the World, has set the stage for his new mission: elevating society to its abundance potential.