90 percent not caring

HappierThere was a time when I, stupidly, let negative people and their games into my head. I recognized what was happening, but I couldn’t help myself; so much seemed at stake.

That’s when I first read a self-help book. My wife suggested a work by Dr. Wayne Dyer. I don’t remember much about it, not even the title, but I took away some techniques I use every now and then when I face challenges. Then I listened to a book by Marianne Williamson. Again, no clue what the title was, but I added a few aphorisms to my self-talk (the best one: Why do I care what people I don’t respect think of me?) that can talk me out of a funk. Self-help books are not a staple of my reading list by any stretch of the imagination, but I dive in every once in a while.

HarrisThat’s what led me to pick up “10% Happier: How I tamed the voice in my head, reduced stress without losing my edge and found self-help that actually works — A true story.” This slight work is by ABC News’ Dan Harris, who you’ll probably recognize by the photo I’ve included here. Not sure what about it appealed to me. Was it the white cover with a photo of a glass of water half full? Was it the ridiculously long subtitle? Who knows. I borrowed it from the library thinking, “Hey, we could all be happier.”

Dan seems like a perfectly nice guy. A real stand-up guy. The kind you’d like to have as a neighbor. But he’s boring as hell and I wouldn’t want to be cornered by him at a party. He tries to make himself an Everyman. He quotes Jay Z and “The Simpsons” along with indie rock bands no one has ever heard of. He calls himself a dude. He calls something a “mindfuck.” But as delivered by him on the recording of his book, he just makes himself blander, and seems like he’s trying too hard. Even his jokes are of the inoffensive paste-colored variety that passes for humor on television news.

He starts this memoir of his trip toward happiness at the low point in his personal and professional life: He had an on air panic attack while reading the news during Good Morning America. The way he described it, I was expecting something really juicy, but watching it here, it looks like more like a glitch with the teleprompter. Still, it brought him to his emotional knees and led him on a journey of self discovery that led him to meditation. That’s no spoiler; he says it in the first chapter.

The truth is, Dan was not always nice. He used to berate coworkers. He threw temper tantrums. He whined about not getting choice assignments. He was letting the voices in his head rule his actions, and those voices weren’t usually kind to others and definitely not to himself. Still, he rose through the ranks and, by all outside measures, seemed successful. To everyone but him.

His journey toward happiness was accidental and stemmed from his work as the religion reporter at ABC News. (This is a topic for another day, but Harris admits he deliberately sought stories about evangelicals to show how far from the mainstream they are and suggests he let his atheism color his reporting.)

Anyway, he discovered meditation through a story on his beat and it intrigued him so he looked into it and tried it and it didn’t work then it did work then it stopped working then it worked again and now he’s 10% happier and not such a jerk to his coworkers.

About halfway through this book, as he’s describing how and where and what he meditated about, I realized I didn’t care. I’m glad he’s happier. Really, I am. But his journey does nothing to illuminate the way for others who may be struggling. And that’s why “10% Happier” is going into the Crap Bucket. You’ll be at least 17% happier you didn’t waste your time.

P.S.: Don’t let Dan read this. Even though he’s happier, he writes that he still takes criticism very personally and I don’t want to be responsible for him backsliding.

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