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10% Happier, Book Review

‘10% Happier’, by Dan Harris, is Dan’s tale of how he found meditation as a tool to “tame the voice in my head, reduce stress without losing my edge and find self help that actually works.” Harris's assertion is that daily medication makes one 10% Happier. The book is a personal account of the things that led Dan to meditation, how daily practice influenced his life, the teachers and mentors he learned from and his personal conclusions. It is a pleasant and at times amusing account of Harris’s career progression and personal life. As a journalist, Dan starts his investigation of the subject by interviewing self-help gurus and slowly progresses, meats and interviews many meditation practitioners, teachers, advocates including the Dalai Lama. Harris is very open and honest and shares with the readers the voices in his head which he used meditation to tame.

For me, the self-help book demystified the daily practice of meditation and incentivized me to continue.

Most old school psychological research was basically researching troubled, unstable or depressed individuals. That is the framework was to study the extreme cases of unhappy people. More recently psychological studies observe happy people instead of helping themselves in many different ways. Recent research in happiness concludes that, among others, three things that happy people have in common are gratitude, mindfulness, and compassion. Meditation is one of the most effective ways to practice mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a translation of the term ‘sati’ in Pāli (Pāli is an ancient language native to parts of India, parts of the Buddhist writings are written in Pāli.) and is a significant element in Buddhist traditions. Mindfulness is basically bringing one’s attention to the experiences occurring in the present. Meditation is a tool that strengthens the mindfulness muscle, as One of Harris’s teachers in the book simply puts it. Mindfulness sounds simple enough doesn’t it? Why do we need to train ourselves to do this? Let’s think of some examples: I’m playing in the park with my kids. Is my attention focused on playing with them? Perhaps some of the time but for most of the time I’m thinking about: what we will eat for dinner, I forgot to hand up the laundry, will my son sleep through the night, who is that mom who just walked into the park, will my daughter be able to make friends easily, why is it so hard for me to do the monkey bars when my daughter can do it so easily, etc ad nauseum. I’m eating breakfast. Am I tasting the food? Feeling the textures in my mouths, am I aware of when my body is satiated? Perhaps for a bite or two. What is going on the rest of the time? The rest of the time is spent contemplating the past or the future. While happiness is best achieved by bringing the mind to the present.

Dan experiences and explains that meditation is a practice of bringing the mind to the present by concentrating on your breath. For many people, it is practically impossible to do for more than ten breaths. The mind wanders. And this is the important part: when you notice or realize that you are no longer focused on the breath, bring yourself back to your breath gently and without judgment. So not: ‘oh! I’m terrible at this, back to my breath.’ The mindfulness muscle is getting stronger every time you bring yourself back to your breath, so it helps to take the wandering mind as an opportunity to strengthen the mindfulness muscle.

Dan also created e website with a number of guided meditations which can be very helpful for getting started or getting motivated.

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