Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Book Review: 10% Happier by Dan Harris
10% Happier is the story of Dan Harris, a tv news reporter who stumbled upon Buddhism in a very unusual way. After working his way up the system for a while, he landed a job as a young correspondent for ABC news working under Peter Jennings. After he proved himself as a reporter during 9-11 and then on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan during the war, Peter Jennings designated Dan as the "spirituality correspondent", meaning he had to report on anything remotely spiritual that became news. At first, Dan hated this idea - he was mostly an atheist and he had no interest in all these "religious wackos" he would be reporting on. Then Dan had an unfortunate occurrence - he had a panic attack on the air. You can even watch the actual event on youtube. He didn't understand what happened or why, so he went through various doctors and therapists until discovering that his highly competitive live style combined with pent up emotions from his time in active war zones eventually falling into drug use put him in a very unstable physical and mental state. All these things were causing unacknowledged depression, which the ups and downs of drugs caused to manifest itself as an actual attack. After delving into all of his personal issues, he decided to use his position as a spirituality correspondent to his advantage and see what all these people had going for them to see if anything "worked for him." He went from being friends with big names in Evangelical Christianity (this was the early 2000s, when these groups were very news worthy) to having a friend recommend a book by Eckhart Tolle. Dan read A New Earth with great interest, but was left hanging when it came to actual application of the ideas he liked. He just couldn't be ok with all the "metaphysical speak". So he interviewed Eckhart Tolle to try and get more answers - this just caused him more confusion when he found out that Tolle is such a kook. The idea of being happier by suppressing "the ego" though was exactly what Dan Harris liked. Dan went on to hang out with Deepak Chopra for a time, again feeling unfulfilled, but for the exact opposite reason: Tolle seemed genuine but insane while Chopra seemed logical but working on his marketing scheme. After these interesting interactions with famous men, Dan's wife recommended a psychiatrist named Mark Epstein and suddenly things really started to click.
Mark Epstein is a Harvard grad M.D. who combines the teachings of the Buddha with the teachings of Freud is treating mental health issues. Not only did his ideas make sense - they had clinical studies to prove their effectiveness. This is where Dan got the idea of trying meditation. Mark recommends Dan look into other people in his sphere of actual doctors who practice Buddhism without "being Buddhist" (meaning they do not worship the Buddha as a religion). This section of the book references lots of facts about meditation, but Dan also talks about his own personal application of each principle and how it helped him along the way. Dan eventually goes on a 10 day meditation retreat where he officially "sees the light" of what meditation can do for you. Not only does his day to day interaction and sense of self improve, he also sees benefits at work once he works out the kinks. The last part of the book breaks down all the principles he learns in general and then talks about how he applied them to the concept of "without losing my edge". He talks about the pitfalls of becoming "too zen" in a competitive workplace, but he does seem to find his stride in the end and becomes a lead male anchor on Good Morning America.
This book was probably the perfect things for me to read at this time in my life. I've always been interested in the concepts of meditation, even read other books explaining the particulars of the practice and benefits received, but I've just always been a little skeptical until now. Reading the teachings of Buddhist meditation as related threw a guy who is, as I said, a cynical jerk, really helped me see that it doesn't have to be a big song and dance to be a part of your life. You can just apply the basics and fit them into your life where you can. Basically anything is better than nothing when it comes to mindfulness and meditation. This is also an area that can always be improved upon in your life no matter how long you have practice or what levels you reach. I certainly am not one to start this seeking "enlightenment", but even the little things I have tried have made big differences that I can't necessarily give specifics on. I just add my small voice next to Dan Harris' that this can do great things in your life if you devote the time to cultivating the skill of taming your thoughts. I give this book a resounding 5 out of 5 stars (my first 5 star book of the year! Hooray!). I've talked about this book so much that now my husband and sister are reading it too :)
P.S. What was even better about listening to this as an audio book is that it was read by the author himself.