On the shelf: A book review of Dan Harris’s “10% Happier”

Anchor Dan Harris and his new book.
ABC News “Nightline” Dan Harris and his new book.

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


by Dan Harris


Review by Karen Thoms

Grand Rapids Main Library


“I just want you to be happy.”


Parents say this to their children because they know how quickly day-to-day stresses can  sap life of happiness. If declining happiness is a fact of most lives, maybe becoming 10%  happier is a worthy goal.


Harris is a climb-the-ladder faster kind of guy. He made a rapid ascent at ABC News, but not without occasional kicks from his mentor, Peter Jennings. According to Harris, “Working for Peter was like sticking your head in a lion’s mouth: thrilling, but not particularly safe.”


Harris’ rise had a lot to do with his upbringing. Son of an oncologist father and pathologist mother, he absorbs his father’s “wisdom” from an early age: “The price of security is insecurity.”


He acts on it brilliantly in his career by over-thinking and volunteering to cover stories putting him in harm’s way–anything to gain more air time.


By the time he’s in his early thirties, Harris is covering breaking news stories from Iraq, Afghanistan, and the West Bank.


However, the light from his rising star is almost extinguished in 2004 when he has an on-air meltdown, fueled by years of drug abuse. Harris tells millions that cholesterol-lowering  drugs have “cancer production” effects. Before the cameraman has time to cut away, Harris has implied to millions that cholesterol-lowering drugs cause cancer! Not long after this on-air blunder, Jennings gives him a new beat to cover. Religion. His rise, his fall, and his new assignment all happen in the first chapter of the book.


The remainder of the book alternates between Harris’s visits to his psychiatrist to try to  get his mental health stabilized and the evolution of his religion stories for ABC  News.   


At the beginning of this religion beat he covers only sensational stories that make Christians look like lunatics. He might have kept filing stories filled with caricatures had he not met mega-church evangelical pastor, Ted Haggard.


His developing friendship with Haggard causes him to lower his defenses and piques interest in his own spiritual life. He chooses the kinds of stories he will pitch to his superiors based on his growing spiritual interests. His personal reading begins to inform whom he will interview, and he frequently chooses advocates of a more Eastern approach to religion. In time, he starts his own mindfulness and meditation practices, including going to weekend retreats.


As these experiences begin to shape a less driven, less anxious life, Harris finds himself wanting to share what he is learning with others. He is dismayed to find that people aren’t  interested and sometimes even chide him. Late in the book he accidentally stumbles upon  a winsome way to open discussions with others.


10% Happier is not a how-to book. It is a chronicle of the highest and lowest points to date in the life of Dan Harris. He believes that if he was able to tame the voice in his head and reduce stress while not losing his edge, you can, too. You can be 10% happier.


On the Shelf book reviews are provided by the Grand Rapids Public Library. For a list of locations, programs and other good reads, visit grpl.org.