Ever been really stressed? So stressed you nearly freak out?
This happened to Dan Harris… in front of 5 million people.
On June 7th, 2004, Dan was a news correspondent on ABC and he had a panic attack on air while reading the news:
He knew he had to do something. His career was in jeopardy.
By coincidence, he was soon assigned to cover stories about religion. This set Dan on a multi-year quest talking to people of faith — and total quacks.
But it ended up introducing him to something that helped him get his head straight and, as he likes to say, made him 10% happier.
What was it? Meditation.
Feeling skeptical yet? Thinking of hippies, beads and chanting? Actually, that’s how Dan felt too.
But it turns out his discovery wasn’t the least bit mystic — in fact it was quite scientific.
I gave Dan a call and we talked about meditation and the book he wrote about his journey: 10% Happier.
And here’s how the neuroscience behind a 2500 year old ritual can help all of us become 10% happier.
You Don’t Have To Be A Hippie And Live In A Yurt
Dan’s now the co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America.
What’s the first thing this Emmy-award winning journalist has to say about meditation? It has a huge PR problem.
Via 10% Happier:
So what is science learning about meditation? A lot. Here’s Dan:
There are actually tons and tons of studies on meditation. But you can find one-off studies that show almost anything, right?
So what happened when the Journal of American Medicinerecently looked at more then 18,000 citations on the subject?
Meditation demonstrated clear results in helping people with anxiety, depression and pain.
Other studies are showing it can help with decision-making, compassion — and it might even reduce your cravings for chocolate.
And Dan’s not the only one who’s realized this:
- The SuperBowl winning Seattle Seahawks meditate.
- Google has someone in charge of teaching meditation.
- 12 minutes a day of meditation makes US Marines more resilient in war zones.
Looking at the research a while back, I said meditation is one of the ten things people should do every day to improve their lives.
(For more on the science of meditation, click here.)
I know some of you are saying, “Great. But what does it do, really?”
Meditation and mindfulness are two things we hear about constantly but few of us can really define what they are and what they do. That’s about to change.
No Robes And Chanting Necessary
We all have that voice in our head. Our internal narrator. And he’s usually a jerk.
A nonstop running commentary of wants and needs, second-guessing, regretting the past and worrying about the future.
Harvard professor and author of Stumbling on Happiness, Dan Gilbert, has shown that this sort of mind-wandering makes us miserable.
In fact, a recent study showed men would rather get electric shocks than be alone with their thoughts. Yeah, really.
This is where meditation comes in.
It’s not some magic incantation; it’s a bicep curl for your brain that can tame the thoughts in your head.
By teaching your brain to focus it can allow you to not get yanked around by your emotions, to be able to respond rather than react.
And the results are real:
A 2012 Harvard study showed:
And after 8 weeks of regular meditation these changes were visible even when the subjects weren’t meditating.
A 2011 Yale study showed:
(For more things scientifically proven to make you happier, click here.)
Some people don’t like my fancy brain pictures. They’re still saying, “That wouldn’t work for me.” You’re wrong. Here’s why.
Excuses, Excuses, Excuses
People give tons of excuses why they can’t meditate. Dan has heard them all by now and most don’t hold water.
1) “I’m too busy to meditate.”
You can see results in 5 minutes a day. You don’t have five minutes? And how long have you been reading this post for, Mr. Busy?
2) “It won’t work for me. My mind is too crazy.”
Ah, “the fallacy of uniqueness.” Dan says he had the attention span of a 6 month old Golden Labrador. It’s worked for him and many many others.
3) “I’m not a Buddhist.”
I asked Dan about this when we chatted. Mindfulness meditation is secular:
4) “I need my anxiety. It drives me crazy but it’s the reason I get things done.”
I was curious about this one, too (you think someone who writes blog posts like this doesn’t have a voice in his head? C’mon.)
Dan always lived by the motto, “The price of security is insecurity.”Worrying kept him on his game. But it also made him miserable.
But then Dan asked his meditation teacher, Joseph Goldstein, what he thought of worrying.
You won’t lose your edge. You can still worry a bit. But when it gets out of hand ask yourself, “Is this useful?”
(For more lifehacks from ancient times that will make you happier, click here.)
At this point many of you are saying, “Okay, okay, meditation is good. But how do I actually do it?”
That’s up next. And it’s crazy simple — but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
How To Meditate
Dan taught Stephen Colbert to meditate:
And here’s how he explained it to me:
Personally, I like to think of it as the toughest and most maddening video game in the world. Dan agrees:
It works. And meditation doesn’t cost anything. All you need to do is be breathing, and breathing is something that’s always with you and never stops.
And if it ever does stop, well, you may have more urgent problems to deal with.
(For more on what the happiest people do every day, click here.)
So how do we tie all this together?
You can still see Dan on Nightline and Good Morning America but luckily he’s not having any more panic attacks.
Is meditation going to give you magic powers? No. Even the Dalai Lama loses his temper.
Seriously — Dan asked him during an interview.
Via 10% Happier:
But research says meditation can make you less stressed and more happy. Here’s what Dan told me:
5 minutes a day. That’s all it takes to give your happiness muscle a workout.
What are you waiting for?
This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.
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