10% Happier

My highlights and notes from 10% Happier by Dan Harris.

comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable

We “live almost exclusively through memory and anticipation,”

Which is more exciting to you? Reality or memory?

thinking about Jay Z, who once rapped, “I’m not a businessman . . . I’m a business, man.”

The fact that you exist is a highly statistically improbable event, and if you are not perpetually surprised by the fact that you exist you don’t deserve to be here.

He wasn’t even trying to start a religion, per se. The word Buddhism was actually an invention of the nineteenth-century Western scholars who discovered and translated the original texts.

Epstein seemed to be arguing that Buddhism was better than seeing a shrink. Therapy, he said, often leads to “understanding without relief.” Even Freud himself had conceded that the best therapy could do was bring us from “hysteric misery” to “common unhappiness.”

The Buddha embraced an often overlooked truism: nothing lasts—including us.

The route to true happiness, he argued, was to achieve a visceral understanding of impermanence

the “laughing Buddha” is actually a medieval Chinese monk who somehow became conflated in the Western imagination with the historical Buddha, who only ate one meal a day and was most likely a bag of skin and bones.

According to the Buddha, we have three habitual responses to everything we experience. We want it, reject it, or we zone out.

Mindfulness is a fourth option, a way to view the contents of our mind with nonjudgmental remove.

Homo sapiens sapiens, “the man who thinks and knows he thinks.”

“A relationship, I think, is like a shark,” he says. “It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.”

as the Buddhists say, “The only way out is through.” Another analogy: When a big wave is coming at you, the best way not to get pummeled is to dive right in.

The Buddhists were always talking about how you have to “let go,” but what they really meant is “let it be.”

Seeing a problem clearly does not prevent you from taking action, he explained. Acceptance is not passivity.

What mindfulness does is create some space in your head so you can, as the Buddhists say, “respond” rather than simply “react.”

We spend a lot of time judging ourselves harshly for feelings that we had no role in summoning. The only thing you can control is how you handle it.

“Sitting with your feelings won’t always solve your problems or make your feelings go away,” he said, “but it can make you stop acting blindly.

When good things happen, we bake them very quickly into our baseline expectations, and yet the primordial void goes unfilled.

until we look directly at our minds we don’t really know “what our lives are about.”

there were four stages of enlightenment. The schema sounded like something out of Dungeons & Dragons. Someone who’d achieved the first stage of enlightenment was a “stream-enterer.” This was followed by a “once-returner,” a “non-returner,” and then a fully enlightened being, known as an “arhant.” Each stage had sixteen sublevels.

We live so much of our lives pushed forward by these “if only” thoughts, and yet the itch remains. The pursuit of happiness becomes the source of our unhappiness.

neuroplasticity. The brain, it turns out, is constantly changing in response to experience. It’s possible to sculpt your brain through meditation just as you build and tone your body through exercise—to grow your gray matter the way doing curls grows your bicep.

Happiness is a skill.

An article in Wired magazine referred to meditation as the tech world’s “new caffeine.”

“Self-cherishing, that’s by nature,” he said (by which I assumed he meant it’s “natural”). “Without that, we human beings become like robots, no feeling. But now, practice for development of concern for well-being of others, that actually is immense benefit to oneself.” A light went off in my head. “It seems like you’re saying that there is a self-interested, or selfish, case for being compassionate?” “Yes. Practice of compassion is ultimately benefit to you. So I usually describe: we are selfish, but be wise selfish rather than foolish selfish.”

Brain scans showed that acts of kindness registered more like eating chocolate than, say, fulfilling an obligation. The same pleasure centers lit up when we received a gift as when we donated to charity.

Overall, compassionate people tended to be healthier, happier, more popular, and more successful at work.

a long-overlooked branch of Darwinian thinking, namely the observation that tribes who cooperated and sacrificed for one another were more likely to “be victorious over other tribes.” Apparently nature rewarded both the fittest—and the kindest.

anger, which can be so seductive at first, has “a honeyed tip” but a “poisoned root.”

when you’re mindful, you actually feel irritation more keenly. However, once you unburden yourself from the delusion that people are deliberately trying to screw you

Robbing a bank or cheating at Scrabble would not automatically earn you jail time or rebirth as a Gila monster. Rather, it was simply that actions have immediate consequences in your mind—which cannot be fooled. Behave poorly, and whether you’re fully conscious of it or not, your mind contracts.

often it’s not the unknown that scares us, it’s that we think we know what’s going to happen—and that it’s going to be bad. But the truth is, we really don’t know.

The Buddha never said it was un-kosher to strive.

The Sufi Muslims say, “Praise Allah, but also tie your camel to the post.” In other words, it’s good to take a transcendent view of the world, but don’t be a chump.

One day, Joseph came upon Munindra in the village marketplace, haggling fiercely over a bag of peanuts. When confronted about this apparent contradiction with his simple-and-easy mantra, his teacher explained, “I said be simple, not a simpleton.”

Striving is fine, as long as it’s tempered by the realization that, in an entropic universe, the final outcome is out of your control.

All I had to do was tell myself: if it doesn’t work, I only need the grit to start again

There’s a reason why they call Buddhism “advanced common sense”; it’s all about methodically confronting obvious-but-often-overlooked truths (everything changes, nothing fully satisfies) until something in you shifts.

respond instead of react to your impulses and urges.

We live our life propelled by desire and aversion.

“There’s no point in being unhappy about things you can’t change, and no point being unhappy about things you can.”

All successful people fail. If you can create an inner environment where your mistakes are forgiven and flaws are candidly confronted, your resilience expands exponentially.

He explained that the brain is a pleasure-seeking machine. Once you teach it, through meditation, that abiding calmly in the present moment feels better than our habitual state of clinging, over time, the brain will want more and more mindfulness.

“When you see that there’s something better than what we have,” said Jud, “then it’s just a matter of time before your brain is like, ‘Why the fuck am I doing that? I’ve been holding on to a hot coal.’

Just as it’s possible for humans to train to be fast or strong enough to compete in the Olympics, he argued we can practice to be the wisest or most compassionate version of ourselves.

Mindfulness, happiness, and not being a jerk are skills I can hone the rest of my life—every day, every moment, until senility or death.

looking inward has made me more outward-facing—and a much nicer colleague, friend, and husband

the “fallacy of uniqueness”

“Beginning again and again is the actual practice, not a problem to overcome so that one day we can come to the ‘real’ meditation.”

you are building your mindfulness muscle the way dumbbell curls build your biceps. Once this muscle is just a little bit developed, you can start to see all the thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations that carom through your skull for what they really are: quantum squirts of energy without any concrete reality of their own. Imagine how massively useful this can be. Normally, for example, when someone cuts you off in traffic or on line at Starbucks, you automatically think, I’m pissed. Instantaneously, you actually become pissed. Mindfulness allows you to slow that process down. Sometimes, of course, you’re right to be pissed. The question is whether you are going to react mindlessly to that anger or respond thoughtfully. Mindfulness provides space between impulse and action, so you’re not a slave to whatever neurotic obsession pops into your head.

is not about feeling a certain way. It’s about feeling the way you feel.

As Joseph Goldstein says, “This is not a breathing exercise.” You don’t have to breathe a certain way. If you want, you can even take sharper breaths so that it’s easier to feel them. What matters here is the mindfulness, not the breath.