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Review: 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 Dan Harris

Life is full of stressful scenarios that trigger the body’s fight-or-flight response, flooding your body with toxins. Your body doesn’t know that being late because of a traffic jam isn’t the same as being chased by a cheetah, so you experience the same stress effects. In this book review, you’ll learn how meditation can help calm your body’s response to unnecessary stresses so you can make more rational decisions and live a much happier, more mindful existence.

Learn how a simple, no-nonsense approach to meditation can change your life and career for the better.


  • Think self-help is for saps
  • Think worrying helps you manage things
  • Are putting your success at work over your relationships with your colleagues

Book Review: 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


Like many intelligent, ambitious people, news anchor and author Dan Harris always assumed that meditation was woo-woo nonsense, a pseudoscientific New Age practice of deluding yourself that you were attaining enlightenment. And like many intelligent, ambitious people, he also suffered from an endless internal narrative that focused on and magnified all the stress in his life. Then, one day, this internal stress caused him to have a panic attack on national television — and he began the long journey of exploring how your ego can make your life unnecessarily stressful, and how to quiet that voice in your head with a simple tool called meditation.

Through his extensive research and many interviews with self-help “gurus” of all sorts, some self-proclaimed and some more humble, Harris learned a few key concepts about reducing the stress that’s holding you back in life and cultivating a mindfulness that can get you ahead in life and work:

  1. Recognize the power your ego has over you. The voice in your head that thrives on comparison and drama is never going to be satisfied and can only keep you from enjoying the present moment.
  2. Be simple, not a simpleton. You can let go of unnecessary stress and avoid rude or aggressive behavior without sacrificing drive in your career or your lust for life.
  3. Meditate. If you have five minutes, you can teach yourself to respond rationally to your thoughts and urges instead of reacting emotionally.

Air Hunger

At a young age, Harris landed his dream job as a news anchor on ABC. He loved it for more than the prestige; he also loved the investigative and helpful work of giving his viewers insights into any subject, no matter how small or obscure. But he felt the pressure of working with idols like Peter Jennings and performing before millions of people, and more and more, he found himself unable to quiet the hypervigilant voice in his head that was convinced that constant worrying was the only way to ensure his continued success.

And the bigger the stories he was assigned, like covering the Taliban in Pakistan after 9/11, the more his ego became addicted to the feeling he calls “journalistic heroin” — the excitement of being somewhere dangerous and doing it on TV. As a war correspondent, Harris believed in his mission, but he also found himself detached from the horrors of war and focused on rising through the ranks at the expense of good relationships with his colleagues, occasionally becoming temperamental or petty.

Returning home after a five-month overseas stint, he was feeling chronically fatigued, achy, and ill. He tested negative for Lyme disease, HIV, and gas-leak exposure. Finally, a psychiatrist diagnosed him: Harris had depression. When he said that he didn’t feel sad, the psychiatrist explained that when your emotions are suppressed, they can manifest themselves in the body. He suggested that the violence Harris had numbed himself to overseas was taking its toll, and he recommended antidepressants — but Harris had already begun self-medicating with cocaine and ecstasy.

Finally, after numbing himself with drugs and living a high-stakes, high-stress life for too long, Harris had a sudden, obvious panic attack in the middle of a report on Good Morning America. He lost the competent persona he’d spent his life cultivating. And it became very clear to him that he needed to make a change.


Though Harris wanted to reduce the stress in his life, once he committed, with the help of a new psychiatrist, to giving up drugs, he began focusing instead on intramural competition at ABC, obsessing over office politics and convinced that everyone else’s good assignments spelled the end of his career. Meanwhile, the woman who would later become his wife helped keep him balanced, and at work he was now on the religion beat, going from covering its zanier, more off-putting aspects to exploring more profound beliefs and methods of worship. He became more and more aware of his own knee-jerk stereotypes (some unfounded, some not) about the evangelicals he interviewed.

When married evangelical pastor Ted Haggard, whom he’d been interviewing for years, was outed as a hypocrite and liar who preached that homosexuality was a sin but actually paid for drugs and gay sex, Harris interviewed him to ask what this meant for his life, his career, and his faith. And though the interview was uncomfortable and Harris’ feelings about the pastor he’d come to respect were complicated, what struck him was that Haggard still believed that God cared for him — a larger view that perplexed and intrigued Harris.

Genius or Lunatic?

When a producer floated the idea of interviewing spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, Harris picked up one of his books and found himself alternately drawn to ideas that were uncannily spot-on and frustrated with ones that were hopelessly vague or blatantly pseudoscientific.

He agreed to the interview and found the man much the same in person: Some of his claims, like stopping the voice in your head simply by taking a deep breath, struck Harris as unhelpful and grandiose. But others, like the concept that we often live our lives as if the present moment is simply a hurdle to get over so we can get to the next one, resonated deeply with Harris. After all, that was how, he was beginning to realize, he had always operated in his life and career.

Happiness, Inc.

After interviewing Deepak Chopra and remaining mostly unimpressed, Harris decided to do a series of stories on self-help practices, books, and gurus called Happiness, Inc. He covered two stars of the powerhouse self-help movie The Secret, Joe Vitale and James Arthur Ray. But all he found were unfounded platitudes and undelivered-on promises, coupled with what looked suspiciously like a lust for money and power. In fact, Ray was charged with manslaughter after three of his followers died in a sweat lodge ceremony and he was found to be on drugs.

Harris found himself disillusioned by the combination of celebrity and silliness he found in most of these gurus and their teachings, but he still felt there was something there that could be useful, if only he could find it.

Go Meditate

Finally, Harris’ then fiancée handed him the writings of Dr. Mark Epstein, a psychiatrist who incorporated Freud and Buddhism into his approach to trauma and retraining the brain to respond more calmly to stressors.

Everything Epstein wrote about the inability to appreciate the present resonated with Harris, and he began to see the limitations of therapy alone and to research Buddhism, which immediately helped him be more present and attentive — for instance, at his wedding.

He then met with Epstein, who was refreshingly human: He was devoid of the grandiosity of Chopra and Tolle, and not interested in fame or monetary gain. He admitted that he had emotions and had to work to appreciate the present. Moreover, he had explicit advice for Harris: meditate.

The Power of Negative Thinking

Initially extremely resistant to the idea of meditating, Harris finally decided to give it a go. The rules were simple: Sit comfortably, focus on your breath, and gently redirect your mind to your breath whenever it wanders.

He immediately saw how hard this was, with endless environmental and inner distractions — which gave him a newfound respect for it. He resolved to stick with it, trying it for just 10 minutes every day, and soon found that any time he was bored or stressed, he could practice focusing on his breath to jolt himself back to reality with new, calm perspective.

He further learned how to apply mindfulness in more upsetting situations: by recognizing his feelings, allowing them to exist, investigating how they were physically affecting his body, and seeing that they were passing feelings and did not define him.

For example, he learned that if you felt envious about a colleague’s promotion at work, you could recognize your envy; allow it to exist rather than trying to deny it or tamp it down; assess how it made you feel flushed, jittery, and sweaty; and then un-identify with it by observing that having envious feelings does not mean that you are an inherently jealous, uncompassionate person. The more you do this, the more you train yourself to respond rationally to a stressor rather than react emotionally.


Despite his misgivings, Harris let himself be talked into a silent meditation retreat with Epstein’s own teacher, Joseph Goldstein. For days, he experienced cynicism, back pain, and excruciating boredom. After several days of unsuccessful meditation, he spoke with Goldstein personally and finally understood that he was trying too hard to meditate correctly — and then, suddenly, it clicked for him.

He had never before understood how you could inhabit the present moment even as it slipped away, and now he realized that seeing the impermanence of the moment was the point. Understanding the fleetingness of life made you appreciate it more.

After this realization, he experienced a few meditation sessions he called magical, with a profound happiness — but he was still more than ready to get back to the real world when the 10 days were up.

10% Happier

After returning from the retreat, dealing with job woes and skeptics curious about why he had disappeared for 10 days, Harris was initially frustrated. He continually found himself trying and failing to explain the point of meditation and what it did for him.

But one day, a friend asked him why he meditated, and, tired of rambling unconvincingly, he burst out with the explanation that it made him 10 percent happier. To his surprise, both he and his friend admitted that that sounded pretty good.

‘The New Caffeine’

Harris pitched an idea for a story on the scientific research behind mindfulness to Diane Sawyer, his colleague, and it was a success.

He learned that a Harvard MRI study had found that people who took an eightweek mindfulness-based stress reduction course increased the thickness of their gray matter in the compassion and self-awareness regions of the brain, and actually decreased the areas affiliated with stress.

A Yale study showed that meditation practitioners actually deactivated the default mode network region of the brain — the part that obsessively ruminates on the past and future instead of the present — not just during meditation but in general. And neuroscience research showed that what we think of as multitasking is actually what scientists call “continuous partial attention,” which results in the very kind of unproductivity that multitasking is supposed to combat. What should you be doing instead? The research points to practicing mindfulness.

The Self-interested Case for Not Being a Dick

Despite all the science backing up the benefits of mindfulness, Harris found himself balking at other Buddhist teachings, most notably the concept of limitless compassion. But then he interviewed the Dalai Lama, who indicated that there is actually a selfish reason to be compassionate: It’s beneficial to you because it wears down the ego and makes you feel good, which actually contributes to you doing more good.

In fact, neuroscience studies show that doing good lights up the pleasure centers in your brain much the way eating sweets does, and other research found that the health of people suffering from a variety of illnesses — like AIDS, addiction, and problems that come with plain old age — significantly improved when they did volunteer work.

Hide the Zen

When a new head of ABC took over, Harris surprised himself by opting not to try to impress him. Consequently, he was asked to cover fewer and fewer stories of importance — even as big news like the tsunami in Japan, the death of bin Laden, and the royal wedding took the world stage. When he finally spoke to his boss, he was floored when the man told him to not to be so Zen.

Harris realized that his new boss was right; he’d confused acceptance with just not trying very hard, a kind of nihilism that is easy to fall into when you take Zen teachings to their seemingly inevitable conclusion — the misconception that you shouldn’t care about anything.

When he brought this up with Mark Epstein, he gave Harris advice that hit home but, as usual, took a while to do so: You have to strive, but with the understanding that the final outcome is beyond your control. “Letting go” doesn’t mean letting go of everything; it simply means knowing your limits and working hard within them.


After finishing the concluding chapter of 10% Happier, Harris had a few life developments. He finally became co-anchor on Nightline. He became open to the idea of mindfulness making him even more than 10% happier. And on assignment in Brazil, interviewing a semiautomatic-toting drug lord, he experienced a moment of fear for his survival that made him take stock of his life — and realized just how much mindfulness has made him a happier, kinder, but not nihilistic person.


“There’s a reason why business people, lawyers, and marines have embraced meditation. There’s no magic or mysticism required—it’s just exercise. If you do the right amount of reps, certain things will happen, reliably and predictably.”– Dan Harris

What happens when I start meditating?

Less reactionary

“What mindfulness does is create some space in your head so you can, as the Buddhists say, ‘respond’ rather than simply ‘react…A successful dotcom friend of mine said that once he started meditating he noticed he was always the calmest person in the room during heated meetings. He called it a “superpower.” – Dan Harris

Meditation gives you the ability to detach and observe a situation, without impulsively reacting to it. This creates a temperament that is essential for leadership. It can also prevent you from saying something to your boss that you’ll later regret.

More resilient

“I had long assumed that the only route to success was harsh self-criticism. However, research shows that ‘firm but kind’ is the smarter play. People trained in self-compassion meditation are more likely to quit smoking and stick to a diet. They are better able to bounce back from missteps. All successful people fail. If you can create an inner environment where your mistakes are forgiven and flaws are candidly confronted, your resilience expands exponentially.” – Dan Harris

Less fearful

“Striving is fine, as long as it’s tempered by the realization that, in an entropic universe, the final outcome is out of your control. If you don’t waste your energy on variables you cannot influence, you can focus much more effectively on those you can. When you are wisely ambitious, you do everything you can to succeed, but you are not attached to the outcome—so that if you fail, you will be maximally resilient, able to get up, dust yourself off, and get back in the fray.” – Dan Harris

More present

“Many people live habitually as if the present moment were an obstacle that they need to overcome in order to get to the next moment. And imagine living your whole life like that, where always this moment is never quite right, not good enough because you need to get to the next one. That is continuous stress…When you have one foot in the future and the other in the past, you piss on the present.” – Dan Harris

“We spend almost every waking moment lost in thought. This is what mindfulness is cutting through. The enemy of mindfulness is to be distracted by thought – thinking without knowing that you’re thinking.” – Sam Harris, author and neuroscientist

“When you see that there’s something better than what we have then it’s just a matter of time before your brain is like, ‘Why the fuck am I doing that? I’ve been holding on to a hot coal.’ ” – Dr. Jud Brewer, mindfulness researcher at Yale

3 Ways to Start Meditating

  1. Download a guided meditation (I suggest using a smartphone app like ‘Calm,’ ‘Headspace’, or ‘10% Happier’).
  2. Go for a walk every morning and pay attention to the sights and sounds around you. When you notice yourself thinking (labeling, ruminating about the past, or worrying about the future), just bring your attention back to the sights and sounds.
  3. Sit upright in a chair, set a timer for 7 minutes, and close your eyes. Feel your breath moving and naturally flowing in and out of your nose. When you notice yourself thinking, gradually return your focus back to your breath.

“Every time you get lost in thought—which you will, thousands of times—gently return to the breath. I cannot stress strongly enough that forgiving yourself and starting over is the whole game. As my friend and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg has written, ‘Beginning again and again is the actual practice, not a problem to overcome so that one day we can come to the ‘real’ meditation.’” – Dan Harris

“If you give your brain enough of a taste of mindfulness, it will eventually create a self-reinforcing spiral—a retreat from greed and hatred” – Dan Harris


On Harris’ long, refreshingly clear-headed journey to incorporate mindfulness into his life and work, he learned the science behind meditation and how it deactivates the “worrying” and stress regions of the brain and actually increases the brain’s capacity for compassion and self-awareness.

He also came face to face with the stigma and cynicism that surrounds meditation and keeps the people who need it the most — high-powered, high-stress professionals like him — scoffing at it rather than pursuing it. So he offers a few practical tips for incorporating mindfulness practices into your life with a degree of rationality that most self-help books don’t offer:

  1. Recognize the power your ego has over you. The voice in your head that thrives on comparison and drama is never going to be satisfied and can keep you from enjoying the present moment.
  2. Be simple, not a simpleton. You can let go of unnecessary stress and avoid rude or aggressive behavior without sacrificing drive in your career or your lust for life.
  3. Meditate. If you have five minutes, you can teach yourself to respond rationally to your thoughts and urges instead of reacting emotionally.

About Dan Harris

Previously the Sunday anchor of World News, ABC news veteran Dan Harris is now a co-anchor of Nightline as well as the weekend edition of Good Morning America. He has reported from all over the world, covering controversial faith groups in America, wars in the Middle East, and human rights issues in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean.


I have read the book [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 [Dan Harris] and I will provide you with a brief review of it.

10% Happier is a memoir by Dan Harris, a TV journalist and anchor, who shares his personal journey of discovering meditation and mindfulness after having a panic attack on live television. The book is a candid and humorous account of how Harris overcame his skepticism and cynicism about spirituality and self-help, and how he learned to tame the voice in his head that caused him stress, anxiety, and unhappiness.

The book is divided into three parts: The Voice, The Powers That Be, and The Way of the Worrier. In the first part, Harris describes his early life and career, his ambition and competitiveness, his drug use and depression, and his on-air meltdown that prompted him to seek help. He also introduces the concept of the voice in his head, which he defines as “the running commentary in my skull that was constantly judging everything I did or said or thought or felt”.

In the second part, Harris recounts his encounters with various spiritual teachers, gurus, and experts who influenced his views on meditation and mindfulness. He meets Eckhart Tolle, the author of The Power of Now; Deepak Chopra, the celebrity doctor and New Age leader; Mark Epstein, a Buddhist psychiatrist; Joseph Goldstein, a meditation master; Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader; and many others. He also explores the scientific evidence and benefits of meditation, such as reducing stress, improving focus, and enhancing happiness.

In the third part, Harris reveals how he incorporated meditation and mindfulness into his daily life and work. He explains how he developed a regular practice of sitting quietly and observing his breath and thoughts. He also describes how he applied the principles of mindfulness to his relationships, emotions, habits, and challenges. He admits that meditation did not make him perfect or blissful, but it did make him 10% happier.

The book is written in a conversational and witty style that engages the reader and makes them laugh. The book is also honest and relatable; Harris does not shy away from sharing his doubts, struggles, mistakes, or failures. He shows both his strengths and weaknesses as a person and as a journalist.

The book is not flawless; it has some limitations and drawbacks. For instance:

  • The book is not very systematic or coherent; it jumps from one topic to another without much transition or connection.
  • The book is not very balanced or objective; it reflects Harris’s perspective and opinion which may be biased or subjective.
  • The book is not very humble or modest; it showcases Harris’s achievements and accolades which may seem boastful or arrogant.
  • The book is not very original or innovative; it does not present any new or groundbreaking insights or ideas on meditation or mindfulness.

However, these limitations do not diminish the value or quality of the book; they are rather part of its charm and uniqueness. They reflect Harris’s style and personality as a journalist: curious, skeptical, humorous, and honest.

My feedback on this book is that it is an enjoyable and informative book that introduces the topic of meditation and mindfulness to a mainstream audience. It offers a personal and practical approach to finding happiness and peace in a hectic and stressful world. It challenges the reader to examine their own voice in their head and see if they can tame it with meditation. It also inspires the reader to see how meditation can transform their lives and the lives around them.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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