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Littler Books cover of 10% Happier Summary

10% Happier Book Summary, Notes, and Quotes

Dan Harris

2.7 minutes to read
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What it's about in a one sentence summary:

“How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Really Works – a True Story”

Bullet Point Summary, Notes, and Quotes

  1. The author experienced a panic attack on national television while reporting live as a news anchor. This led him to explore the world of meditation as a way to calm his mind and overcome his anxiety.
  2. Meditation involves sitting comfortably and focusing on your breath. It can be done anywhere by anyone.
  3. Some people define ego as the part of us that's self-serving. Freud defines it as the mediator between morality and base desires. The most helpful way to define the ego is “the inner voice in your head that guides your behavior.” By recognizing the influence of our ego and learning to control it, we can improve our overall happiness and well-being.
  4. The ego is insatiable. It always wants more than it currently has, regardless of how much has been acquired, because it'll repeatedly reset the baseline for happiness. It is what makes wealthy people crave more wealth and beautiful people agonize over their appearance.
  5. The ego prevents us from enjoying the present and keeps us mired in the past and stressed about the future. It is what drives us to complain to our spouse about work problems and lose sleep over thoughts about retirement.
  6. Our ego and sense of self is an illusion created by our brains. Meditation can help us see through this illusion and develop a more objective perspective. You might find peace and clarity when you realize you don't need to believe everything your mind tells you.
  7. Practicing mindfulness through meditation can help control and let go of the ego and improve decision-making by allowing us to respond, not react.
  8. Research shows that practicing mindfulness actually increases gray matter in the brain associated with compassion and self-awareness, and reduces areas associated with stress.
  9. Metta meditation is a type of meditation focused on cultivating feelings of love and kindness towards oneself and others. It involves thinking about a benefactor (e.g., yourself, a person who you're in conflict with, all beings) and repeating a mantra in your head. An example mantra is “May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be safe, may you live with ease.”
  10. Compassion for yourself allows you to accept your flaws and improves your decision-making. Studies show that practitioners of self-compassion meditation engage in healthier behaviors (e.g., eats healthy, quits smoking).
  11. One experiment found that people who meditated are more empathetic, social, laughed more, and used the word “I” less.
  12. Letting go of your ego does not mean you should neglect your needs, become a pushover, or become unproductive. In fact, practicing mindfulness can make you more creative and productive by clearing your mind of unhelpful assumptions and routines, and allowing space for new ideas.
    1. The author produced significantly more great ideas while he was on a meditation retreat than when he was in his usual noisier environment.
  13. Controlling your urges can be more satisfying than indulging in them.
  14. High levels of stress or the need for competition are not necessary to incite success.
  15. Buddhist teachings say we automatically respond to things in three ways:
    1. Want (e.g., when we crave delicious food)
    2. Reject (e.g., when we swat away bugs)
    3. Zone out (e.g., when we stop listening to a monotonous lecture)
  16. Mindfulness arms us with another way of responding: observe without judgment.
  17. Meditation cultivates mindfulness by teaching us to observe our thoughts and emotions without judgment, and enables us to notice discomforts without reacting impulsively.
    1. For example, if you're stuck in a long line at the grocery store, instead of getting frustrated by the experience, mindfulness helps you to remain calm and happy by noticing your feelings objectively and then letting them pass.
    2. “The only way out is through.” (Buddhist proverb)
  18. Studies have shown that meditation has numerous mental and physical benefits:
    1. Increases patience, compassion, empathy, focus, resilience, impulse control, and overall well-being
    2. Reduces toxic stress chemicals released from our “fight or flight” system, thus lowering blood pressure and reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases
    3. Helps in managing depression and addictions (e.g., drugs, smoking, food)
    4. Alleviates stress and feelings of loneliness
    5. Increased compassion for self and others
    6. Reduces the symptoms of asthma, psoriasis, ADHD, and irritable bowel syndrome
  19. The author once tried to repress his negative emotions by substance abuse. This led him to his panic attack at work.
  20. To effectively manage negative emotions, first recognize its existence, then “let it be”, analyze its effects on you, and finally separate yourself from its effects (non-identification).
    1. The author used this method when he was stressed about a promotion. First, he acknowledged that he's stressed, then he let himself be okay with being stressed, next he observed the effects of his stress (chest palpitations), finally he affirmed himself that his stress is ephemeral and not a permanent part of him. This prevented him from being perpetually stressed out.

10% Happier: Resources