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Book:  10% Happier

Author:  Dan Harris

Purchase:  Print | eBook | Audiobook

Citation:  Harris, D. (2019). 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. New York: Dey St., an imprint of William Morrow.

Three Big Takeaways:
  1. Three general tips for meditation: 1) Sit comfortably and make sure your spine is reasonably straight; 2) Feel the sensations of your breath as it goes in and out. Pick a spot (nostrils, chest, gut) and really try to feel the breath. 3) Whenever your attention wanders, just forgive yourself and gently come back to your breath. You don't need to clear the mind of all thinking; that's pretty much impossible. The whole game is to catch your mind wandering and then come back to the breath, over and over again. (pg. 100)

  2. In a world characterized by impermanence, where all of our pleasures are fleeting, I had subconsciously assumed that if only I could get a better job I would achieve bulletproof satisfaction - and I was shocked when it didn't work out this way. This is a lie we tell ourselves our whole lives: as soon as we get the next meal, party, vacation, etc. we'll feel really good. We live so much of our lives pushed forward by these "if only" thoughts, and yet the itch remains. The pursuit of happiness becomes the source of our unhappiness. (pg. 165)

  3. Meditation is the best tool I know for neutralizing the voice in your head. The act of simply feeling the breath breaks the habit of constantly thinking of judgments, desires, and assumptions. For those short periods of time when you're focused on the rise and fall of the abdomen or the cool air entering and exiting the nostrils, the ego is muzzled. You are not thinking - you are being mindful. When you repeatedly go through this cycle, you are building your mindfulness muscles the way a dumbbell curl builds your biceps. (pg. 231)


Other Key Ideas:

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. In my experience, meditation makes you 10% happier. (pg. xxii)

Our entire lives are governed by a voice in our heads. This voice is engaged in a ceaseless stream of thinking - most of it negative, repetitive, and self-referential. It squawks away at us from the minute we open our eyes in the morning until the minute we fall asleep at night. Talk, talk, talk: the voice is constantly judging and labeling everything. Its targets aren't just external; it often viciously taunts us, too. (pg. 56)

The ego is never satisfied. No matter how much stuff we buy, no matter how many arguments we win or delicious meals we consume, the ego never feels complete. Ego is obsessed with the past and the future, at the expense of the present. We live almost exclusively through memory and anticipation. Now, as a grown-up I was always hurtling headlong through the day, checking things off my to-do list, constantly picturing completion instead of calmly and carefully enjoying the process. The unspoken assumption behind most of my forward momentum was that whatever was coming next would definitely be better. (pg. 57)

How do you stop the voice in your head? You create little spaces in your daily life where you are aware but not thinking. For example, you take one conscious breath. And make the present moment your friend rather than your enemy. Because many people live habitually as if the present moment were an obstacle that the 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. (pg. 65)

Meditation offers an actual method for shutting down the monkey mind, if only for a moment. I started to be able to use the breath to jolt myself back to the present moment - in airport security lines, waiting for elevators, you name it. Every moment provides an opportunity for using the breath to focus on the present - a million opportunities to practice. Meditation was radically altering my relationship to boredom, something I'd spent my whole life scrambling to avoid. Now I started to see life's in between moments - sitting at a red light, waiting for my crew to get set up for an interview - as a chance to focus on my breath, or just to take in my surroundings. (pg. 103)

Mindfulness is the ability to recognize what is happening in your mind right now - anger, jealousy, sadness, the pain of a stubbed to, whatever - without getting carried away by it. Typically we have three responses to everything we experience. We want it, reject it, or we zone out. Cookies: I want. Mosquitoes: I reject. The flight attendant's safety instructions: I zone out. Mindfulness is a fourth option, a way to view the contents of our mind with nonjudgmental remove. (pg. 103)

When you are going through the same, negative scenario in your mind for the 20th time ask yourself the following question: "Is this useful?" (pg. 149)

When I got tense about work, I would watch how it was manifesting in my body - the buzzing in my chest, my earlobes getting hot, the heaviness in my head. Investigating and labeling my feelings really put them in perspective; they seemed much less solid. (pg. 163)

The old conventional wisdom was that once we reached adulthood, our brain stopped changing. It turns out that the brain is constantly changing in response to experience. It's possible to sculpt your brain through meditation just as you build and tone your body through exercise. The brain can be trained. Happiness is a skill. (pg. 169)

Take mindfulness breaks throughout the day. These can also be called "purposeful pauses." So, for example, instead of fidgeting or tapping your fingers while your computer boots up, try to watch your breath for a few minutes. These pauses are the ways to make you a more clear thinker and for you to be more focused on what's important. (pg. 173)

The entire endeavor of meditation revolves around moments of mindfulness, interrupted by periods of distraction, then gently catching yourself and returning to breath. Over time, the mindfulness may grow longer and the wandering shorter. It creates resilience that can be enormously useful when confronting the ups and downs of everyday life. (pg. 232)

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