Join us for a discussion of the first three chapters of 10% Happier by Dan Harris
The voice in my head is an asshole. Dan Harris and I (and I’d wager to guess, many of you) have that in common. On any given day, at any given time, the (often) mean girl that inhabits my brain can be found whispering not-so-sweet nothings in my ear: “your thighs are too big”, “you’re not good enough,“, “those photos suck“, “what you just said was suuuuper awkwarrrrd“. These thoughts and others of their ilk are my secret shame and they plague me daily; while they’re not all bad, I’d say the majority of these thoughts span anywhere from disparaging to downright rude. And I’m telling you about them, because until I read Harris’ account of similar behavior, it never occurred to me that other people might also be experiencing the same thing. This was my first ‘whoa’ moment of this book.
The second was this sentence in the preface: “Some think they need depression to be creative or compulsive worry to be successful.”
If you read January’s book club selection, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, your mind might also be blown right now. The ethos behind that thought is actually a big part of Gilbert’s book, and what drew me into 10% Happier beyond the preface. I think in a lot of ways we’re taught that life is a struggle but, while there will always be difficult aspects, Harris and Gilbert and those who came before them are out there to teach us that things don’t have to be quite as painful as we sometimes make them out to be. One part memoir, one part self-help extravaganza, 10% Happier gives us a front row seat into Harris’ mind. If you’ve watched footage of the breakdown he references in chapter 1, Air Hunger, the breakdown that was chronicled on live TV and which set him on the path that led to this book, it seems far less dramatic from the outside looking in. Just a guy who maybe was feeling under the weather that day. But isn’t that always the case? We can never truly know what goes on in the minds of those around us. Everyone has their battles, everyone has experienced trauma in some way. Maybe you’re not a war correspondent coming face to face with the Taliban, but that doesn’t make your stresses and traumas and realities any less valid. We’ve all been there in some way or another — we’ve all had our own version of Harris’ on-air meltdown.
I still remember mine, at least the first major panic attack I had. I was in college and at an art opening at a gallery with some friends. The place was packed with tall and beautiful, artistic people and someone looked at me funny and then everyone was looking at me funny. Except, of course, they weren’t (until I was the girl crying in the hallway for no noticeable reason – then they were definitely looking at me). Amid the crowd and artwork and having lost sight of my friends, I had somehow convinced myself that I was the odd one out and had a total and complete meltdown because of it. Looking back, I know everything that transpired was thanks to that overly critical voice in my head, whispering that I didn’t belong.
While I haven’t experienced a panic attack of that caliber in years, I do have a tendency to overanalyze and could relate to a lot of what Harris describes in the first chapter, especially when it comes to being overly critical of oneself and maybe being a bit too competitive, always going, going, going, not allowing myself to slow down and catch my breath.
Moving into Unchurched, the second chapter of 10%, I once again felt similar kinship with Harris, though I’m ashamed to admit it. As someone from a secular background, I’ve always found it difficult to relate to my spiritual friends and those with more religious… gusto. This is what makes Harris’ point of view so unique — as a reporter, he’s taught to be curious, to delve into what he’s been assigned, regardless of personal interest. As readers, we can only benefit from this. I appreciate that Harris doesn’t shy away from the difficult questions and chooses, eventually, to see the greater takeaway from his conversations with Pastor Ted. There’s always something to glean from the people we interact with, always an opportunity for discourse. Rather than arguing, Harris asks questions, something we (I) could stand to do more of. He learns, we learn. The bigger picture becomes clearer.
In Genius or Lunatic?, chapter 3, Harris goes deeper into the spiritual world, while simultaneously battling his own demons. How many times have you stood in the proverbial airplane bathroom, obsessing over something minuscule, as Harris does in the opening pages? We have hangups, that thing that we deem a career killer or inevitable horror. We worry, often too much, have our own versions of the inaugural proceedings. But the thing that most struck a chord in this chapter was the idea of having one foot in the past, and one in the future, none in the actual present. I mean, yeah. I believe that we’re largely taught to think in this way, to glorify the past, to fetishize nostalgia, while simultaneously working to be our best selves and striving for the future and dreaming big. But… what about now. Like, right now? I’m extremely guilty of this, of dreaming of the next place I’ll live in and the house I hope to own one day and even just counting down the hours until the weekend. Turns out, living in the here and now (and appreciating it) is a lot harder than constantly daydreaming of the future and reminiscing on the past. As Harris continues to look for answers, so do I, and I’m looking forward to diving in to the next three chapters next week.
+ Could you relate at all to the voice Harris describes in chapter 1?
+ What do you think of Harris’ approach to Pastor Ted and other religions?
+ Are you guilty of living too much in the past or future? Why do you think we, as a culture, tends to behave this way?