It’s been about two years since high-profile, reputable television journalist Dan Harris published “10% Happier.”
“I’ve spent a lot of time convalescing in a fetal position [since then],” he said dryly with what I took to be self-deprecating humor. “I spent five years working on the thing, and then it was kind of like a whirlwind … I was just kind of riding the wave and trying to keep up with interview requests and also get back to my life and job.”
There are other reasons Harris hears for why people don’t want to try meditation.
They include worries that it conflicts with religion, the fallacy that some people just have minds that are too busy for it and the misconception that there isn’t enough time in the day.
He debunked each of those arguments.
On the topic of religion, he said that meditation-while rooted in Buddhism-has become secularized and can be a complement to any faith.
As for the busy mind argument-nope. And that’s because one of the biggest misunderstandings about meditation is that you have to clear your mind. The actual practice often involves focusing on the moment even for just a nanosecond, getting lost in thought and starting over again. The idea that clearing the mind is “success” and that you’re going to “win” at meditation isn’t accurate.
“The failing is succeeding,” he said. “That’s a really counterintuitive thing.”
Lastly, you aren’t too busy, he said. It only takes five to 10 minutes a day to get started and see benefits. Harris said he doesn’t care if you have “47 jobs and 13 children.” You have time.
His book is the true story of how he “tamed the voice” in his head (which was the insane, fickle ego that we all have) while still maintaining his competitive edge.
After spending years reporting from war zones and witnessing unimaginable circumstances, he eventually became depressed without realizing it. That led to self-medication with drugs and an on-air panic attack.
The panic attack set in motion a deep, but skeptical, voyage into mindfulness and meditation-and to “10% Happier.”
I’ve recommended the book in a previous column. You can read more about it here. But the general gist is that Harris quantified that meditation/mindfulness practice made him about 10 percent happier.
“Somewhere along the way, I decided to figure out what was next and how to build on [the book and subsequent whirlwind],” he said.
He wants to write a sequel to the book, and the podcast is a first step toward that goal. The interviews he conducts for the podcast will provide the content of the book, which will address whether enlightenment is real, he said.
At the end of the interview-which I will detail more below-he acknowledged that what he was about to say was “crass,” and then he gave his pitch, encouraging anyone who likes the podcast to rate it, which will allow him to keep doing it.
He isn’t trying to get rich off of it, he said.
“This is to wake people up to the possibility that happiness is a skill,” he said.
The rest of the conversation
If I had my way, I would have talked to Harris for hours.
But the publicist who set up the call noted a 10-minute window, and although we went a bit over that time allotment-and I didn’t get the feeling Harris was impatient to get off the phone-I wanted to be respectful of what I had agreed to.
So I clumsily crammed as many questions as possible into the call, which wasn’t easy because we were talking about pretty epic topics-objectivity, enlightenment, science, religion and Eckhart Tolle.
I wanted to know how he would maintain skepticism and journalistic objectivity while writing about something he was now a part of-the world of meditation. And I wanted him to articulate why people should give meditation a try and what he tells skeptics (because I still get a lot of dismissive reactions on the topic).
On the issue of skepticism/objectivity, he said: “I have no problem being skeptical as a reporter about politicians or businessmen-whatever I’m covering …. As it pertains to the world of meditation, that has become a trickier thing. That will be one of the tensions visible in this next book.”
As for what he says to skeptics, he points to science.
And although the research on the advantages of meditation is relatively new-and he didn’t want to “hype it as being stronger than it really is”-there is still strong evidence that suggests tangible and intellectually tenable benefits of meditation. (I’ve written on this topic. Click here and here for more.)
Irony, ego and interviewing other journalists
Immediately after I got off the phone with Harris, I knew I needed to meditate and remind myself of the mindfulness pillars I’ve been practicing.
After 10 years as a professional journalist, I’ve managed to steel my nerves in most all interview circumstances. I can’t think of many people I would be nervous to talk to, especially while wearing my Chloé Nooga.com reporter hat.
The exception to that is other journalists, especially ones I admire.
I think I managed to not come off like a complete halfwit, although I did nearly derail our conversation by having Krystal burgers on the mind.
In discussing the validity of the science behind meditation, Harris said something about crystals, making a point to distinguish the practice from what he viewed as sillier traditions, like using crystals for healing.
For a split-second I thought he was talking about Krystals, the tiny hamburgers. I interrupted him briefly, quickly realized my mistake and didn’t explain to him that I inexplicably thought he was somehow tying fast food into our discussion.
In reflecting on the conversation later, I thought it ironic that I felt flustered talking to him, especially because in his book he reveals a good bit about himself and his own humanizing, potentially embarrassing quirks and experiences.
He writes about being irrationally obsessed with his hairline, which he was afraid was receding. He documents how he used to obsessively read online comments about his work. He reveals a cute story about his first date with his wife and how he had a plan to stand just so, looking at his phone and pretending to be casual, which didn’t work.
I found further irony in the fact that I was nervous to talk to a person who had strived to tame his ego and the fact that it was my own ego fueling my nerves.
The interview itself was a lesson on mindfulness and a valuable reminder that it takes continual practice to subdue that sneaky ego.
In life, just as in meditation, like Harris said, it’s the floundering and then refocusing that’s the ultimate success.
The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.