What I’m Reading: 10% Happier

Riding the waves

Everyone seems to be talking about mindfulness these days.  A few months ago, I was wandering around Indigo, a fabulous chain of bookstores in Toronto and decided I wanted to read something about mindfulness and meditation, to learn a bit more. I didn’t fancy a long tome ala Eckhart Tolle, just something light and easy so I picked up 10% Happier, on a whim.

I’m glad I did. Subtitled ‘How I Tamed The Voice In My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works – A True Story’,  10% Happier definitely did the trick in giving a light hearted introduction to mindfulness and meditation.

I’m personally a bit more open than Dan Harris, the author was initially, to meditation and mindfulness, but it’s his overriding skepticism and back story that really make the book so engaging and funny. A bit of back story: Dan Harris is a high profile anchor on ABC, an American television network and is typical of many of us. Stressed, very ambitious, trying to cram 25 hours into 24 and using drugs, alcohol and food to self-medicate. He falls into the meditation / mindfulness world through a story he’s reporting on and is intrigued, yet dubious.

What I loved most about this book, was Dan’s big realisation, on his meandering journey to learning about mindfulness. He wasn’t ever going to find something that would make him 100% happier. But anything that would make him even 10% happier was something worth exploring. I like that. There’s no expectations for a cure-all, or something life changing. Just something to help make each day a little brighter, something to help cope with the stresses of everyday life.

Even if you think of this mindfulness stuff is b.s., the book is still worth a read, purely for the fish out of water in crunchy hippy meditation world narrative that underpins it. The appendix also includes some great counter arguments to various ‘bad’ reasons not to meditate and a lovely basic mindfulness mediation that you can even do on the tube. To paraphrase:

  1. Sit comfortably.
  2. Feel your breath. Pick a spot – nose, belly or chest. Really try to feel and focus on the in-breath and then the out-breath.
  3. Every time you get lost in thought (which you will – thousands of times), gently return to the breath…beginning again and again is the actual practice, not a problem to overcome so that one day we can come to the ‘real’ meditation.

Have you tried mindfulness or mediation? What did you think? I’ve used Headspace and found it very calming and also practice the parasympathetic breathing that I learned in Hypnobirthing (really!) when I get really stressed.

Photo by Cameron Kirby
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