Book Excerpt: ABC's Dan Harris' '10% Happier'
'Nightline,' 'GMA Weekend' co-anchor on that defeatist voice in your head.
March 11, 2014— -- The following is excerpted from "10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works--A True Story," by ABC's Dan Harris.
Credit: !t Books (An Imprint of HarperCollns)
Initially I wanted to call this book "The Voice in My Head Is an A-----e." However, that title was deemed inappropriate for a man whose day job requires him to abide by FCC decency standards.
It's true, though. The voice in my head can be a total pill. I'd venture to guess yours can, too. Most of us are so entranced by the nonstop conversation we're having with ourselves that we aren't even aware we have a voice in our head. I certainly wasn't -- at least not before I embarked on the weird little odyssey described in this book.
To be clear, I'm not talking about "hearing voices," I'm talking about the internal narrator, the most intimate part of our lives. The voice comes braying in as soon as we open our eyes in the morning,nand then heckles us all day long with an air horn. It's a fever swamp of urges, desires, and judgments. It's fixated on the past and the future, to the detriment of the here and now. It's what has us reaching into the fridge when we're not hungry, losing our temper when we know it's not really in our best interest, and pruning our inboxes when we're ostensibly engaged in conversation with other human beings. Our inner chatter isn't all bad, of course. Sometimes it's creative, generous, or funny. But if we don't pay close attention -- which very few of us are taught how to do -- it can be a malevolent puppeteer.
If you'd told me when I first arrived in New York City, to start working in network news, that I'd be using meditation to defang the voice in my head -- or that I'd ever write a whole book about it -- Iwould have laughed at you. Until recently, I thought of meditation as the exclusive province of bearded swamis, unwashed hippies, and fans of John Tesh music. Moreover, since I have the attention span ofa six-month-old yellow Lab, I figured it was something I could never do anyway. I assumed, given the constant looping, buzzing, and fizzing of my thoughts, that "clearing my mind" wasn't an option.
But then came a strange and unplanned series of events, involving war zones, megachurches, self-help gurus, Paris Hilton, the Dalai Lama, and ten days of silence that, in a flash, went from the most annoying to the most profound experience of my life. As a result of all of this, I came to realize that my preconceptions about meditation were, in fact, misconceptions.
Meditation suffers from a towering PR problem, largely because its most prominent proponents talk as if they have a perpetual pan flute accompaniment. If you can get past the cultural baggage, though, what you'll find is that meditation is simply exercise for your brain. It's a proven technique for preventing the voice in your head from leading you around by the nose. To be clear, it's not a miracle cure. It won't make you taller or better-looking, nor will it magically solve all of your problems. You should disregard the fancy books and the famous gurus promising immediate enlightenment. In my experience, meditation makes you 10% happier. That's an absurdly unscientific estimate, of course. But still, not a bad return on investment.