How Meditation can make you “10% Happier”

ABC News
Beyond The Headline
How Meditation can make you “10% Happier”

In Dan Harris's 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,” the ABC News correspondent recounts how suffering a massive on-air panic attack eventually led him to meditation.

“I never in a million years thought I'd be the type of person who meditates. I've had an aversion to all things airy-fairy since age five,” says Harris, “But then, a few years ago, I heard about an explosion of scientific research suggesting that meditation has an extraordinary range of health benefits. In particular, I found the neuroscience compelling. Studies say you can sculpt your brain through meditation just as you build and tone your body through exercise.”

As Harris began his exploration on mediation he discovered new research and scientific studies that demonstrated how the simple act of sitting-up straight, focusing your breath, and clearing your mind produced positive tangible results. Basically, mediation works.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison scanned the brains of Tibetan monks. What they found was a "connection between meditation and resilience." Specifically, they were looking at the amygdala, the region associated with emotions and emotional memories. Their work suggests the more you meditate, the quicker your amygdala recovers from stress and trauma.

Of course, critics have pointed out that studies of monks may not apply to the rest of us. Which is why the next example is so powerful…

An MRI study from Harvard found that beginners who took an eight-week meditation course literally had thicker gray matter in the areas of the brain associated with self-awareness and compassion, while the regions associated with stress actually shrank.

A study out of Yale looked at the part of the brain known as the "default mode network," which is active when we're lost in thought—ruminating about the past, projecting into the future, obsessing about ourselves. The researchers found people that meditate were not only deactivating this region while they were practicing, but also when they were not meditating. In other words, meditation created a new default mode.

Scientists at UC Santa Barbara found that meditation helped students reduce their mind-wandering, and even perform better on the Graduate Record Exam (G.R.E.). Meditation has also been found to boost focus among office workers and grade- schoolers.

A trio of studies out of the University of Miami looked at three very stressed-out groups: incarcerated youth, college students and Marines preparing to be sent overseas. In each case, the scientists found that short bursts of daily meditation protected the study subjects from stress-related degradation of mental functions such as attention and short-term memory.

As a result of all of his research into meditation, the practice is being embraced by executives, elite athletes, rock stars and even network news anchors. Despite his initial uneasiness with anything “hippie-dippy,” Harris has written a book designed to make meditation palatable to skeptics. And it’s called "10% Happier."