When you Google “Dan Harris,” one of the first hits that comes up references an “on-air panic attack.” And while that sounds like a mortifying moment, for Harris, the co-anchor of ABC’s Nightline and the weekend edition of Good Morning America, his panic attack was actually a (very public) wake up call.
When he returned home from covering the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Harris was so depressed he could barely get out of bed. He’s said quite publicly that he coped by turning to drugs like cocaine and ecstasy, which he later learned contributed to his televised freakout.
After the panic attack, Harris discovered meditation through self-help gurus and brain scientists—and learned ways to finally understand and rein in the voice in his head. His findings inspired his book, 10 Percent Happier, which is like your cool uncle’s guide to meditation—all the facts, none of the “bullshit” (his word, not ours).
Harris is the first to admit that meditation can’t solve all of your problems—but his tips for how it can make you a tiny bit happier are certainly a start.
You were skeptical about meditation before you started practicing. What do you wish you knew then that you know now? I wish somebody had pointed out to me that meditation—what many of us think is bullshit—is based on scientific research proving that it lowers your blood pressure, helps your immune system, and rewires parts of your brain. It’s most likely going to be next big public health revolution.
How can someone who knows nothing about meditation start a practice? There are four ways you can learn about it: Google the basic meditation instruction. You can buy an app like HeadSpace. Read a book about it—I recommend Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation, or you can go to a class.
Then when you actually meditate, follow these steps. Sit and close your eyes. Keep your spine straight and focus on the feeling of your breath coming in and coming out. Then, most importantly, notice when you’ve gotten lost and started thinking about your to-do list—or anything—instead of your breath. When that happens—and it will happen a million times—you have to start over.
What do you say to people who claim they don’t have time to meditate (guilty) or are scared of it? When I talk about meditation, I am talking about secular, simple, mindful meditation. You don’t have to join a group or believe in anything.
As far as time, you can start with two minutes a day, and then work up to five or ten minutes. I now do it for 35 minutes a day. In the beginning, it’s more about making sure to do it daily.
Like anything else in your life, you won’t ace it right away. Getting lost and starting over is like a bicep curl for your brain.
I can make time for two minutes! What do you think meditation accomplishes? It’s a daily collision with the asshole in your head who’s suggesting terrible things at every turn, like trying to get you to check your email while you’re with your kid, or engage in road rage.
[Meditation] helps you rebuff those terrible suggestions. Over time, you’ll be able to sift through your thoughts so you’re acting only on the good ones, not the bad ones.
You’re very practical about the benefits of meditation. At what point did you realize it was making you slightly happier? When I started to do it, I saw the effects quickly. It improved my focus—getting lost a million times and starting over a million times helps you focus, especially in an era when we are so distracted.
It also made me calmer, and more mindful. It gave me the ability to see what was going on in my head at any given moment, without being carried away by it. Meditation stops you from being yanked around by your emotions, which is the primary problem in most of our lives, whether we’re aware of it or not. —Molly Gallagher
For more information, check out 10 Percent Happier
(Photos: herbsandoilsworld.com, Dan Harris)