51 pages 1 hour read

Dan Harris

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2014

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Summary and Study Guide


Former ABC News correspondent Dan Harris wrote 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 in 2014. The book is a self-help memoir that details Harris's personal mental health and spiritual journey. After extensively covering the war in Iraq from 2001 to 2003, Harris experienced a panic attack during a live broadcast of Good Morning America in the summer of 2004. Realizing he’d been leading his life mindlessly, including self-medicating with drugs and overwork, Harris decided to investigate what could alleviate his tendency toward anxiety, sure he didn’t want his existential crisis to continue. What follows is Harris’s journey to discovering Buddhist meditation and its benefits, which features popular figures such as Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, Mark Epstein, and the Dalai Lama, among others.

Harris's story has sold millions of copies and became a #1 New York Times best seller. In addition, it spawned the podcast Ten Percent Happier (TPH), which has been downloaded over 10 million times. Its companion book, Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics (2017), co-written with meditation teacher Jeff Warren, was also a best seller. Harris wrote a 50-page sequel essay, Hoist on My Own Petard: Or How Writing 10% Happier Threw My Own Advice Right Back in My Face (2015), that describes his continuing wellness journey.

This guide uses the 2019 fifth anniversary edition, published by DEY Street Books, a division of HarperCollins. The 2019 edition includes an additional preface as well as meditation how-tos in an appendix, written by significant leaders in the meditation field.


Harris notes that 10% Happier is “an argument dressed up as a memoir” (xix) in the 2019 preface. In the 2014 preface that follows, he explains that “the best way to illustrate [how meditation can help someone] is to give you, as we say in the business, ‘exclusive access’ to the voice in my live television head” (xxiii). In the first chapter, Harris recounts the story of his panic attack in 2004, showing how his hostile inner voice brought him to that crisis.

At 29, Harris joined the ABC News team and quickly became successful. The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centers on September 11, 2001, provided an opportunity to prove his mettle as a war correspondent. Reporting from the Middle East also provided a jolt of “journalistic heroin” (14) that hooked Harris but later spiraled him into depression when he returned to New York City. Drug use seemed to mitigate his depression and the castigating voice in his head, which told him he was insufficient. Additionally, his anxiety was increased by both workplace competition and the use of drugs that stimulated adrenaline. Harris experienced “air hunger” both in trying to get more reports on air and in the closed-up feeling of his lungs during panic attacks. Even after getting clean, however, he still felt something was missing.

Covering religion for ABC News initially didn’t seem to be a great fit for Harris, whose “personal attitude about faith [was] one of disinterest bordering on disdain” (30). However, covering the rise and fall of Evangelical pastor Ted Haggard, meeting self-help expert Eckhart Tolle, and meeting self-proclaimed spiritual leader Deepak Chopra led Harris to see that religious faith varied in sincerity and depth. Tolle, in particular, had interesting ideas about the intensity of the inner voice and its “ceaseless stream of thinking—most of it negative, repetitive, and self-referential” (56). While Harris was intrigued by this idea, he didn’t see any practical guide for silencing that voice—or making it nicer. This spurred Harris’s need to find a pragmatic tool for doing so.

Concerned about his stress, Harris’s wife, Bianca, gave him the work of Mark Epstein, a Buddhist psychologist. Meeting at Harris’s request, Epstein suggested meditation as a way to curb Harris's anxiety. He also suggested Harris become acquainted with the work of Joseph Goldstein. As Harris increased his involvement with Buddhist meditation, he felt calmer and more focused. Flux at work created tension, however, as he was up for several new positions. To combat this, he attended a 10-day retreat and learned some more techniques. On his return to work, however, Harris found that he couldn’t quite articulate how important meditation was to him.

In order to find ways to talk about his revelatory experience, he developed the term “10% happier” as a way to describe how meditation made him feel. He then discovered that several scientists were working on measuring the effects of meditation on the brain, and corporations were using it to make their leaders more effective. Despite feeling vulnerable, Harris also added loving-kindness meditation to his practice. Soon, he felt more connected and less prone to outbursts. However, an administrative change at work caused a personal setback, as Harris became passive and depressed. Eventually, he had to realize that he could be both mindful and assertive, balancing the two. Further, he realized he wanted to share the benefits he received from meditation with others and began writing this account of his journey. The book concludes with an epilogue, as Harris contends with the concept of enlightenment and again asserts how meditation has made him more successful and resilient.