Why Aren't You Happy, Even When You Get What You Want? This Founder Teamed Up With the Dalai Lama Himself to Cure Your 'Insatiable' Desire. Ten Percent Happier founder Dan Harris traveled to India to partner with Tibet's highest spiritual leader on a free program that will help you cultivate a compassionate mindset.
It's a phenomenon that Ten Percent Happier founder Dan Harris understands all too well.
"Many of us, especially ambitious people, think that as soon as we close that next deal, make that next purchase, get that next promotion or round of funding, then we'll finally be in that bright, shimmering future," Harris tells Entrepreneur. "But that is not how the human animal was designed."
It's just evolution, Harris says: We're designed for "insatiability" to ensure our survival — always on the hunt for the "next hit of dopamine."
Although the relentless desire for more might help us as a species, it can also lead to a lot of unhappiness on a personal level. Harris experienced that reality firsthand back in 2004 when he was a news anchor filling in on Good Morning America: He had a panic attack on live television.
The incident forced Harris to reevaluate a lot of things in his life and ultimately led him to meditation. Once a skeptic, Harris is now a Buddhist and evangelist who's made a career out of sharing the practice's power with others.
Harris is the author of the No. 1 New York Times bestseller 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works and the founder behind the Ten Percent Happier podcast and meditation app, which offers practical teachings and guided meditations to "make mindfulness into a habit you carry everywhere."
What's more, the latest guided meditation challenge on Harris's Ten Percent Happier platform was produced in partnership with perhaps one of the best authorities on happiness there is: the Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lama's Guide to Happiness is a 10-day course that utilizes short videos followed by 5-10 minute meditations. It's also completely free (one of the Dalai Lama's stipulations — and something Harris fully supports too).
"This is not a rainbow-barfing unicorn. It's not like you're trailing pixie dust now and forever."
First, it's important to be realistic about what meditation can and can't do when it comes to personal happiness.
The title of Harris's book (and subsequent podcast and app) stems from being aware of just that: When Harris returned from a meditation retreat and a colleague at ABC News asked him why he'd gone, his off-the-cuff response "because it makes me 10% happier" transformed the look on her face "from scorn to mild interest."
According to Harris, genuine happiness is really more like "a fundamental okayness."
"This is not a rainbow-barfing unicorn," Harris explains. "It's not like you're trailing pixie dust now and forever. Life is difficult. We are all going to get old and die. Everybody we know is going to get old and die. These are unpleasant but nonnegotiable truths. So can you be okay with the ups and downs?
"That doesn't mean you never get sad," he continues. "It would be dysfunctional if you were never sad because there are objectively bad things in the world. It just means that you can ride the ups and downs; you can surf the waves of life rather than drowning in them."
Related: 7 Keys to Unlock Your Happiness
"In meditation, we get a kind of self-awareness that is often referred to as mindfulness, and that allows us to not take our bullshit so personally, so seriously."
So, how does meditation actually make you happier?
Meditation involves sitting quietly and trying to focus on one thing, typically the sensation of your breath coming and going, Harris explains.
"And as soon as you try to do this, you'll notice that your mind is all over the place," Harris says, "and you're starting to have all kinds of random thoughts, like What's for lunch? How do I successfully murder my boss? Whatever. Then over and over and over again, you wake up from the distraction and go back to your breath."
The onslaught of distracting thoughts is enough to convince a lot of people that they're failed meditators, Harris says, but it's actually the "moment of proof" that you're on the right track — because the whole point is to get acquainted with your inner life and voice, also known as the ego.
"When you're unaware of this voice, it owns you lock, stock and barrel," Harris explains. "And in meditation, we get a kind of self-awareness that is often referred to as mindfulness, and that allows us to not take our bullshit so personally, so seriously. And that is a really key ingredient, among others, of happiness, of being able to have this equanimity, this okayness in the face of whatever's happening."
But mindfulness is just one of many types of meditation that can help you unlock a more consistent state of happiness.
Meditation practices that promote our capacity for compassion and warmth "train up another massive ingredient of what we understand happiness to be," Harris says.
Harris brings up the concept psychologists call "social fitness" — essentially, the quality of your relationships, which according to certain studies, is the most important factor when it comes to someone's ability to thrive.
Once again, it just makes sense in the grand scheme of evolution.
"We thrived as a species not because we were the strongest animal, but because we had the ability to collaborate and innovate and take down the stronger animals together," Harris explains. "So we really do need relationships in order to thrive. And in modern society, with an emphasis on technology, individual achievement and consumerism, we are pushed by the culture in the wrong direction much of the time."
Another perk of improving your relationships, according to Harris? More success across the board.
"Compassion is so important to us, evolutionarily, [that] when you are confronted with a direct beam of it — it can crack you open."
A lot has changed for Harris since that fateful on-air day nearly 20 years ago.
This past October, after his friend the neuroscientist Dr. Richard Davidson helped facilitate Ten Percent Happier's partnership with the Dalai Lama, Harris found himself on a plane to India.
Harris spent the two weeks that followed interviewing the spiritual leader, capturing "incredible moments" on camera as they worked together on the course.
Naturally, meeting someone who's been training to cultivate a compassionate mindset for roughly 80 years was somewhat overwhelming at first: Harris says he experienced a serious bout of imposter syndrome.
"I have long wrestled with whether I might be incurably selfish — just totally out for myself," Harris says, citing some of the ambitious pursuits other founders can surely relate to: leading his venture-backed startup, hosting a successful podcast, publishing books he hopes will be bestsellers.
"It's quite something to see [the Dalai Lama] in his orbit," Harris says. "People on my crew started to cry merely being in his presence. Because compassion is so important to us, evolutionarily, [that] when you are confronted with a direct beam of it — it can crack you open."
But as his time in India went on, Harris began to realize that the "line between self-interest and other interests is more porous."
"You can train your mind toward compassion — you don't have to be the Dalai Lama," Harris explains. "You can just do these simple, scientifically validated meditation practices, and what's wrong with me wanting to have a successful business, especially if that business is helping other people?"
Harris urges other founders to think about their ventures the same way.
"Put the topspin of — Well, my work is helping other people," Harris says. "By helping myself, I'm going to support my family. I'm going to help my customers. And perhaps, given whatever the mission of the organization is, help the whole world."