Monday, July 15, 2019

10% Happier by Dan Harris stands out as a self-help book that's actually helpful

10% Happier by Dan Harris
"The brain, the organ of experience, through which our entire lives are led, can be trained. Happiness is a skill."

I read 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works by Dan Harris nearly a year ago for a book club. One that got cancelled at the last minute and never met again. Such is the way of book clubs.

I had excitedly looked forward to the meeting, eager to discuss this book that I recommended to the group and found to be both an interesting memoir and a self-help guide that actually helped. I made 23 notes and 186 highlights in my Kindle copy, planning not only to discuss the key points but to put some of them into practice.

I added the book to Goodreads and awarded four stars, but passed on writing the review, thinking I'd hash it over at the meeting anyway. You know how that worked out.

I'm backing up mentally to review this book now because it struck a chord with me and offered practical insight. A former journalist myself (print, not television like the author), I could relate to the way he questioned various techniques and teachings, unwilling to swallow whole whatever sounded good at first blush. His role as interviewer allowed him to pursue stories related to personal growth and mindfulness, and to meet and question various gurus about their self-help methods.

After suffering a panic attack live on Good Morning America, Harris made some changes in his life. This involved kicking a drug problem and learning to alter they way he dealt with stress and anxiety, to actually alter the way he thinks. This was a long process, and the story of that journey yielded quite a few realizations and tips I find helpful for my own life.

Harris voices his skepticism of many self-help phenoms here, which I appreciate and share, and even admits he's a bit of a jerk at times (and yeah, he is). However, he's grown and learned a lot since beginning a quest into mindfulness and meditation and is able to share that knowledge in a clear and logical way. His journalistic approach to examining self-help methods and their purveyors, mixed with excellent writing and research skills, made this one of the best self-help books I've ever read.

I've been working on practicing mindfulness in small ways in my life, never sticking to a routine like I mean to. Nevertheless, what little I've done has helped me quell anxiety a bit, as has calling to mind some of the phrases learned in this book and elsewhere when I start to drown in anxious thinking and need a lifeline back to the surface.

I typed up three pages of notes from the book to review and refresh my memory as needed; I absolutely got my money's worth out of this book. Some quotes to give you an idea of what you'll find in 10% Happier:
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.
We spend a lot of time judging ourselves harshly for feelings that we had no role in summoning. The only thing you can control is how you handle it.
And something the leader of a mediation retreat told the group, which I highlighted, adding the note: "This! Take note of this!" It was:
“Is this useful?” It’s a simple, elegant corrective to my “price of security” motto. It’s okay to worry, plot, and plan, he’s saying—but only until it’s not useful anymore.
Asking yourself "Is this useful?" proves helpful if you're prone to overthinking or endless worry. When I've already made a decision or done all I can to prepare for, say, a trip, it's miserable to continuously think about it and all the things that could go wrong, and it's utterly useless to boot. I think of this as being caught in an anxiety loop, a "What if?" black hole. Asking myself "Is it useful?" helps me back away from those destructive thoughts.

Here's a final quote that sums up what many of us need to remember, what *I* need to remember, as I make may way through life and deal with thoughts that can derail me if I don't kick 'em to the curb:
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.

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