Book Review: 10% Happier by Dan Harris

Book Review: 10% Happier by Dan Harris

10% happier book review and summary

I’ve just finished the book “10% Happier” by Dan Harris. In this article we’ll do a full review of the book, to determine whether or not it's right for you. So, what is 10% Happier about?

10% Happier is an auto-biography written by ABC News anchor Dan Harris, discussing the rise of his anxiety along with his career. When Dan Harris has a panic attack live on-air in front of 5 million viewers, he realizes he needs to make a change. This book follows his journey into the elusive industry of spirituality, self-help, and meditation.

The book essentially documents Harris’ quest “to quiet the voice in his head,” and find happiness. He interviews all manner of self-help gurus and religious and spiritual leaders, in an attempt to find the secret sauce to happiness.

Throughout the book, Harris slowly learns to “tame the voice in his head, reduce stress without losing his edge, and find self-help that actually works.” His main assertion is that, through meditation, we all have the potential to become at least 10% Happier (and maybe much more).

Let’s dive right in and discuss his story.

Dan Harris’ Panic Attack

Dan Harris’ panic attack happened in 2004, live and on-air in front of 5 million ABC World News viewers.

This is pretty much the most worst-case scenario that most people with anxiety can possibly imagine.

You can watch the footage for yourself here:

So, what actually led to Dan Harris’ panic attack on live TV?

In the book, Harris describes a number of factors that were slowly causing a build-up of stress in his life: from a cutthroat career environment to sporadic drug abuse.

Harris spent years covering stories in war-torn countries with bullets flying past his head. When he eventually returned to the United States, his brain was left craving the sweet highs of adrenaline he had become addicted to overseas. To fulfill these cravings, he turned to drugs.

One of my favorite points that Dan Harris mentions in his book is that, with drugs, there’s no such thing as a “free ride.” And he couldn’t be more right about this.

While certain drugs can make you feel incredible in the moment, they will always exact some sort of neurological toll on you in the near future. Much like the dreaded hangover that most of us can relate to, every high is going to be followed by a low.

In this case, increasing work stress paired with routine drug use put a strain on his mental health, to the extent that it eventually led to Dan Harris’ panic attack on TV.

Afterwards, Harris decided to meet with several therapists and came to the conclusion that he would have to cut out his drug use entirely.

After doing so, however, he still struggled to find a meaningful way to quiet the voice in his head and to let go of his restless ego.

This was the impetus that started him on his quest to become happier, less stressed, and more effective; both in his work and in his personal life.

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10% Happier Summary

A Healthy Dose of Skepticism
One of the earliest stops on Harris’ journey was to interview Eckhart Tolle, a spiritual teacher and best-selling author from Germany. From there he goes on to interview several other spiritual and religious leaders: people such as Deepak Chopra and Ted Haggard. All of the people Harris talks to are prominent figures in their respective communities, with widely varying views on subjects such as happiness and the human ego.

Perhaps the most appealing part about Harris’ point of view is his healthy dose of skepticism. While true that Harris is on a personal quest here, he does not hesitate to ask the hard-hitting questions. He conducts himself with an impressive degree of journalistic integrity, and will let the reader know exactly how he feels about each interviewee at various points throughout the book.

But Harris is not looking to join a cult or be sold a dream; he is looking for tangible evidence of genuine benefits. He takes what small nuggets of wisdom he can glean from these individuals, and continues on his quest.

Dan Harris Discovers Meditation
After a great deal of trial and error; many missteps, questions, and half-truths, Harris eventually meets Mark Epstein, who introduces him to meditation.

This happens around the halfway point of this book, and it's where the book becomes much more interesting in my opinion.

Epstein presents meditation to Harris in a way that even a skeptic could appreciate. He explains that the Buddhists have a practical, step-by-step system in place to achieve results; a major improvement from the obscure and non-actionable advice of teachers like Tolle.

At the behest of Epstein, Harris decides to let his guard down and go on a meditation retreat led by Joseph Goldstein.

The Results of Meditation
The book goes on to detail the dramatic highs and lows of Harris’ meditation retreat.

Harris continues to struggle with some difficult questions, which he manages to find his answer to piece by piece when talking to Epstein, Goldstein, and even the Dalai Lama.

Most interestingly, Harris interviews a number of people, from US marines to big-time CEOs, all extolling the unexpected effectiveness of meditation.

Through this lens, we’re able to take a secular look at meditation: stripped of the more spiritual and dogmatic aspects that often come packaged with it. Harris even discusses some reputable scientific studies into the field of positive psychology, where meditation is definitively proven with brain scans to bring measurable benefits!

All in all, 10% Happier does a fantastic job of making the case for meditation, an often overlooked but effective method for quieting the voice in our head and eliminating anxiety.

Is 10% Happier Worth Reading?

I’ll admit that in the above summary, I’ve basically over-simplified the entire book.

The fact of the matter is, the story's much better told from Dan Harris’ mouth than mine.

It is an impressively honest, skeptical, and scientific look at the world of meditation. Harris details exactly what worked and what didn’t work for him. One could even go so far as to call this book “spirituality for atheists,” since no religious or spiritual beliefs are required to derive benefits.

10% Happier explains meditation perfectly, in a way that any neophyte could appreciate. Most relevant to readers on this site, this book will show you exactly how meditation can help you to decrease anxiety in your life in several ways.

Some of the Ways this Book Can Help You:

  • Learn to Quiet the Voice in your Head – You know, that voice that tells you, “it’s time to have a panic attack.”
  • Practice Mindfulness –The ability to be “in the moment” instead of dwelling in the past or worrying about the future.
  • Build Empathy for Others – Yes, it is a skill that can be developed.
  • RAIN – Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Non-Identification; phases of mindfulness that help you to acknowledge negative emotions and let them pass without harming you.
  • How to Separate Yourself from the Outcome – “Try your best” but don’t be overly attached to the outcome; don’t beat yourself up over the things that are out of your control.

Two Small Criticisms of 10% Happier:

  • The Book Reads as an Auto-biography – As such, there is a significant amount of Dan Harris’ backstory in the first half of the book that may not be relevant or interesting to every reader.
  • Needlessly Wordy at Times – I've got a pretty solid grasp of the English language. When I occasionally come across a word I don't know, I feel forced to look it up. This book had me doing that more than I'd prefer. At times, it could feel a bit pretentious.

So, is 10% Happier worth reading?

If you're looking for a way to deal with daily anxiety or trying to learn how to stop panic attacks without medication, reading 10% Happier is a great first step. This book does a phenomenal job extolling the virtues of meditation, in a way that even the most skeptical of scientists can get behind.

The thing is, meditation has a bit of a granola-and-healing-crystals sort of “vibe” in Western culture. This can cause many of us to assume it's “unscientific,” and turn our nose up at it to our own detriment.

For anyone who has previously dismissed meditation, or anyone who is currently on the fence about it, this is where 10% Happier shines. If you're not already meditating on a daily basis, reading this book could radically change your view on the benefits of meditation; even when meditating for as little as 5 minutes per day.

If you’re looking for a place to start with meditation, this book is it.

Where to Buy 10% Happier

If you're looking to purchase 10% Happier, you may do so here.

10% happier book review and summary

What to Read After 10% Happier

While there is certainly a fair bit of information on how to meditate in this book, it’s definitely more of a primer than a meditation guide.

That is, reading this book will absolutely convince you that meditation is worth your time, but it only offers a bit in the way of practical meditation advice.

So, once you’ve read the book and you’re completely ready add meditation to your daily routine, where do you go next?

Well, it seems as though Dan Harris has a path laid out for us, as his next book is called “Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics.” I expect it will be the natural follow-up of 10% Happier, and include more practical steps to take for daily meditation.

(click here to buy a copy for yourself and read along with me!)

meditation for fidgety skeptics
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About the Author

Years of personal experience with anxiety disorders and panic attacks have led me to devise some pretty creative ways to keep my anxiety in check. In the past, anxiety and panic attacks felt like something I'd have to live with forever. Nowadays, panic attacks are a distant memory for me, and I'm free to pursue passions like writing and traveling the world. Hopefully, the information on this website can help you achieve the same. I do all the writing here myself, so don't hesitate to reach out with questions!

Tyler Ellis

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