The Book in Three Sentences

Practicing meditation and mindfulness will make you at least 10 percent happier. Being mindful doesn’t change the problems in your life, but mindfulness does help you respond to your problems rather than react to them. Mindfulness helps you realize that striving for success is fine as long as you accept that the outcome is outside your control.

10% Happier summary

This is my book summary of 10% Happier by Dan Harris. My notes are informal and often contain quotes from the book as well as my own thoughts. This summary also includes key lessons and important passages from the book.

  • “My preconceptions about meditation were misconceptions.”
  • “In my experience, meditation makes you 10% happier.”
  • Some of the traits we think are fixed like a quick temper or moody-ness or compassion are learned skills, not fixed characteristics.
  • Many people assume they must be paranoid and worry if they want to stay at the top of their game.
  • People care a lot about the bio on an author’s page.
  • “The best parts of Eckhart Tolle were a form of Buddhism.”
  • Most improvements in life make very little difference and that’s fine. We spend so much time searching for transformational change in one easy step, but can we all just admit that were looking for the easy way out here? Just because you can’t change everything at once doesn’t mean you can’t get better. In many cases, most cases in fact, you are only going to see a very small increase from each action. One workout builds a very small amount of muscle. That is what is to be expected. You’re not doing it wrong if you get very tiny results. Most strategies deliver tiny results and require consistent over a long period of time. In the book, Harris makes a comment about therapy only working a little bit: “The limit isn’t your therapist. The limit is therapy itself.” It makes a small difference, but it still makes a difference. The key is to embrace these daily marginal gains rather than dismissing them because they are small.
  • Meditation is like doing focused reps for your mind. Focus on the breath, lose your focus, bring it back to the breath, repeat. This is the whole game. Keep bringing your mind back to the breath.
  • How to meditate: sit somewhere comfortable, keep a straight spine, focus on a spot, and bring your focus back to your breath whenever you lose it.
  • Meditation helps you shut down your monkey mind for a moment.
  • We have 3 habitual responses to everything we experience: 1) We want it. 2) We reject it. 3) We zone out. Mindfulness is a fourth response. Viewing what happens in the world without an emotional response about it.
  • “Mindfulness represents an alternative to living reactively.”
  • Interesting self-sabotage insight: many people worry that if they meditate they will lose their edge and no longer be competitive or driven.
  • “When you squelch something you give it power. Ignorance is not bliss.” You should not run from your problems and pain. You should acknowledge them.
  • The R.A.I.N. Technique for meditation: Recognize. Allow. Investigate. Non-identification. 1) Recognize: Acknowledge your feelings. 2) Allow: Where you lean into the pain. Let the pain be. 3) Investigate: Check out how the situation is impacting your body. Is my face hot? Is my back tight? Etc. 4) Non-identification: Realize that just because you feel pain or frustration or guilt or anger right now does not mean you are an angry or broken person. It is simply a phase happening at this moment, not your identity as a person.
  • Mindfulness seems to be about awareness of the self. You recognize and acknowledge the things going on around you and the emotions you are feeling. Rather than let the emotion drive everything, you step outside of it and see it from afar.
  • Being mindful doesn’t change the problems in your life. You still need to take action, but the key is that mindfulness allows you to respond rather than react to the problems in your life.
  • Hedonic adaptation: the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.
  • A simple question to ask yourself when you’re worrying: “Is this useful?”
  • “I do meditation because it makes me 10 percent happier.”
  • “Everything we experience in this world goes through one filter — our minds — and we spend very little time bothering to see how it works.”
  • Meditation will make you more resilient, but it is not a “cure all” that fixes your problems or relieves all stress in your life.
  • One Harvard study shows that gray matter grows in meditators. This is known as neuroplasticity.
  • Scientists have developed a term for the consequence of all our multitasking: continuous partial attention.
  • The Dalai Lama has a theory on selfishness: We should strive to be wise selfish rather than foolish selfish. Foolish selfish is when you focus on self-centered and shallow activities. Wise selfish is when you show compassion and help others because it benefits you and makes you feel good. Compassion is in our own self-interest.
  • Make eye contact and smile at people. This simple habit that will make you feel more connected and much better each day.
  • When police officers or first responders are interviewed about how and why they acted in a particular way during an emergency they often say, “My training kicked in.” I like this idea of training yourself to be mindful, aware, compassionate, and so on. These are traits that can be trained and then will automatically reveal themselves when needed (assuming you’ve practiced enough).
  • Don’t confuse letting go with going soft. Just because you’re aware of what is going on and being mindful about it does not mean you just let things go when you have the ability to take action on them and improve. The way to respond to adversity is often to work through it, not to avoid it altogether in the name of acting Zen.
  • Striving for success is fine as long as you realize that the outcome is not under your control. Be as ambitious as possible, but let go of the result. This makes it easier for you to be resilient and bounce back if the result is poor.
  • Buddhism is “advanced common sense.” It requires you to analyze simple fundamentals until a deeper understanding is achieved.
  • 10 Buddhist Principles for the Modern Worker: 1) Don’t be a jerk. 2) When necessary, hide the Zen. 3) Meditate. 4) The price of security is insecurity, until it’s not useful. 5) Equanimity is not the enemy of creativity. 6) Don’t force it. 7) Humility prevents humiliation. 8) Go easy with the internal cattle prod. 9) Non-attachment to results. 10) Ask, “What matters most?”
  • “Meditation is the super power that makes all the other precepts possible.”

Reading Suggestions

This is a list of authors, books, and concepts mentioned in 10% Happier, which might be useful for future reading.

  • Books by Dr. Mark Epstein
  • Books by Eckhart Tolle

10% Happier by Dan Harris

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