The Long Journey to Becoming '10 Percent Happier'

How an on-air panic attack led ABC's Dan Harris to dive into America's self-help subculture.
3:00 | 03/12/14

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Transcript for The Long Journey to Becoming '10 Percent Happier'
We're trying something a little different on Nightline tonight because I'm gonna tell you a story about me. Actually it's not just about me because I've found a way to make myself significantly happier. -- probably work for you to a stumble upon this whole thing as a result of a bizarre unplanned Odyssey and it all started. Win the most embarrassing day of my lights. ABC news this is Good Morning America we're gonna go now to -- Dan Harris is at the news this -- Morning Charlie and Diane think this meet ten years ago and the reason this is the most embarrassing day of my life is not that it looks like I've been attacked by a blow dryer and a can of hairspray. No it's that I am about to freak out. On national television. Health news now one of the world's most commonly prescribed medications. May be providing a big bonus the researchers report people who take cholesterol lowing drugs called Staten is released five years may also lower their risk for cancer. But is too early to to prescribe -- slowly for cancer production at this point I realize I'm helpless so -- -- right in the middle. That does -- for news we're gonna go back now. Two revenue Charlie the control room clearly taken by surprise continues to roll video for the next story but Harry Potter. Which I was no longer able to read all right thanks very much Dan Harris of the news this was some of the headlines of the morning wanna go to Tony Perkins now he wants this -- subsided. Humiliation rushed in Ein news with rock solid certainty that I just had a panic attack on national tell. So why would I tell you this very embarrassing story because that on air meltdown was the culmination of something that had been building for years something I never stopped to address. It's something we all battle whether we have panic attacks are not. Call it the -- in your head you know the voice on. About the often nasty inner narrator who discourages and. That's two of urges and impulses that has. Losing your temper and regretting it later -- And for many of us it's that nagging temptation. To float off into our own heads instead of actually listening to people. Kind of Colombian wife the debate it's a love story my favorite comedian Dave Chappelle nailed it on Asia -- -- at market east and NASCAR race. -- -- In my case like many Americans my inner voice. Was pushing me to succeed annual New Year's party in New York his me in my late twenties thank you then that I had -- dream job. But I also had doubts about whether it was good enough but it's hard to do that. 321. My solutions. Become a workaholic. After nine -- I volunteered to spend years in war -- -- -- covered the heroics of our men and women overseas and got a real taste of both the horror. And the adrenaline of combat -- it's good health care now here I am back home. It makes perfect. I may look okay but -- the guy you see here. He's having trouble getting out of bed this tax debate is one of the clearest choices in this election. After years of always barreling forward when I finally slowed down it was as if my mind revolted and I got depressed. And so it in my free time I briefly but stupidly began self medicating even using cocaine which my doctor would later tell me almost certainly produce that on air panic attack. That realization that I didn't blindly letting my urges and impulses yank me around. Became a turning point. Eventually outside the antidote to this kind of -- -- something that wouldn't -- quote -- somewhat tongue in cheek title of a new book I've written make me. 10% happier but to get there. A few other things had to happen. We're -- -- take a closer look tonight at the continuing battle about teaching evolution coincidentally it was around this time that my boss Peter Jennings. -- -- need to cover the religion beat to -- -- I was not initially super interest in the subject this was the last time I read scripture. -- -- -- -- But here I am -- three -- among the believers going said mega churches mosques it. -- Mormon temple. Thanks for himself and made real friendship each of us -- learn something from others and develop the new found -- lasting respect for the value of having a view of the world that's larger than just yourself. However. None of what I encountered spoke to me personally. That all changed they'll win one of my colleagues recommended -- check out this rather odd little man. Welcome the best selling Oprah approved self help guru -- toll. Announcements -- yes yes and which is different from saying -- Totally was the first person I ever heard talk about the voice in the -- which he says is so busy assessing about the past for the future that you miss what's happening right now. It makes -- a decision like I had done when I got to press. And self medicated with drugs. So I decided. I need to meet this -- Do you stop thinking -- -- stop the voice in your head. You creation little spaces in your daily life. Where you -- But not thinking. For example you take one conscious press. Un break my heart toll that's all the practical advice you've got I can hear the cynics in the audience -- -- and -- -- act and you know awakened by taking a deep breath was he was talking. Yes that's -- mind talking. So let's and of course many people will have their mind commenting on what I'm saying and saying -- -- useless. That was exactly what my mind was saying don't you ever did -- annoyed irritated sad. Anything negative. No I accept what is. And that's by life has become so simple somebody cuts you often and -- there and in your car. It's fun it's like his sudden gust of wind I don't -- a gust of wind. Them all and sold its simply want it is. And you're able to enjoy every moment unifies their rescue a kind of annoying questions yes that would be fine being so it's really don't -- me. Back at about how locked out of the interview deeply confused by toll but still very much intrigued by the notion is -- saying he's a voice in my -- As it happened just a few weeks later I was moderating a debate for Nightline and one of the guests was -- -- -- where the inspiration for the movie alone. My goal is to guarantee in this -- You are you. CN I couldn't resist whipping out my little camera to asked if he had any practical side. To your mind doesn't -- you don't find yourself thinking about things that are in the -- -- in the future as opposed -- in the present I have dual. Regrets that both buzz -- do not own resentments and grievances that come from the bus and they do it and speak the -- soon. -- -- -- OK so what the moment is horrible what if you really -- to the bathroom and toilet nearby or what if -- super hundred. A separate myself from the situations surrounding the movement. The movement is on this street it's that runs -- -- and politics to be infant. Apparently when one lives in the moment one becomes unafraid to use terms like transformational vortex of the incident -- Deepak not making any sense to me I decided that further into America's self help subculture. Where things only got -- Do you want -- kind of business you wanna have -- -- gaggle of gurus and many of -- featured prominently in the best selling books and dvds this secret. And their advice for dealing with a voice and I had. Was divorced myself to do more positive thinking which they promised couldn't get means anything. You want. This he's Joseph Vitale who charges. Five grand -- for our ride in his Rolls Royce well there are people who think they should charge a lot more than that they think that's giving it away. And who in this interview as you're about to see folds like a cheap lawn chair to -- if I want a thing. Diamond necklace from Iowa. And I can get that I think -- -- not just thinking about it that's -- the biggest misconceptions of all time. You have to take action and that it a statement of the glaring we obviously think it's news to most people that he wants on the you have to want it and then try to get it you're going to put it that way it sounds silly -- it actually. Know them pretty -- analyst. After listening to me hammer on about all of this for months by then fiancee Bianca -- was a doctor decided to intervene. She started give me books to read books that made me realize that all this stuff about the voice in the head and being in the moment. These are ideas that people have been talking about for centuries from the Buddha to Sigmund Freud to. Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights -- -- to wake. -- chance in this game. I read tons of these books stacks of them and it was through these books that I finally found something that actually does work. It's simple scientifically tested and completely free. Problem was it sounded totally unacceptable to me meditation. I always -- meditation was from people like crystals incense and John Tesh music. In other words there was no way I was going to meditate. But then I heard about scientific studies showing that meditation can. Among other things -- lower your blood pressure and boost your immune system. And that I learned that meditation does not necessarily involve wearing rose lighting incense or believing in anything in particular. People of any faith or no -- can do it. In fact it's totally straightforward they're basically just three steps number one sit upright doesn't have to be cross legged you can do it in a chair on the floor whatever. -- just try to steal your breath coming in and going out. And three whenever your mind -- which it will a million times simply return your attention to the -- So one day after I learned all of this a very reluctantly gave it a shot. -- in kind of bird was big bird three need a haircut. What's the -- decided titled it yet anyway it was like the panic -- my mind hurling lots of crazy -- in the eight. Idea for old school we were on vegetable -- van -- time but this time I had a weapons in the game -- In those brief moments where I was -- police focused on my breath and read in. Read out he was like testing the mute button on the voice in my head. Where did resemble in run wild breed and its allies of his more -- -- -- read out. And it created space between the -- before they inevitably came marauding back in. Meditation is -- exercise for your brain I'm not speaking metaphorically here check this out brain scan showed that short daily doses of meditation. Literally grow the gray matter in areas associated with self awareness and compassion. And shrink the area associated with stress. As for -- it's not like my life has become a nonstop parade of rainbows -- used. I still sometimes let work stress me out -- distract me let my emotions and impulses no longer yank me around as much which frankly -- a superpower. Meditation has also helped -- slowed down enough. That the good stuff in my life has become much more vivid. From the fact that ABC lets me be their co anchor of Nightline to simply eating cookies -- my -- or playing with our cats. An important point here it is possible to get happier in this way without going -- these Marines here are part of an experiment. To see if meditation makes more resilient warrior the first time they say to you we're gonna teach -- how to -- what was your dad react. Perhaps leaving -- corporate executives are using it to. Even the lead singer Weezer who told me meditation -- -- -- crippling stage fright. Just about anything you know. -- -- practicing two hours every day and -- first -- actually that the unpleasantness got worse than before I was going on stage I was wondering is does this really working but I stuck with it. And now I feel so much calmer. And check out this list of other conditions meditation has been shown to be good for there are no miracle cures despite what you hear from this self help gurus. I like to say meditation has made me roughly 10% happier if they can work for a fidgety skeptical newsman. Maybe you two should give -- -- shot. And.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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