ABC co-anchor Dan Harris says meditation relieves stress

Rosemary Lausier, Crier Staff

Dan Harris, Co-anchor of ABC New Nightline and Weekend Edition of Good Morning America, has covered natural disasters, shootings in Newtown and Aurora, and the war in Iraq. However, in recent months he has taken a new challenge outside of the newsroom: author.

Considered one of the “highlights of [his] career”, Harris wrote his first 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.

   “It sounds like a Fiona Apple song” Harris joked as he and his wife Bianca visited the New Hampshire Institute of Politics on September 29th to give a talk about his latest venture.

The journey has been long; however, it has been one of personal difficulties ultimately ending with triumph for Harris.

When Harris was 28, after previously working at news stations in Bangor, Maine and Boston, he was finally offered a job at ABC News as part of Peter Jennings’s team. He admits to becoming a workaholic and constantly pushing himself to succeed. After voluntarily taking multiple trips to Iraq for work, Harris became depressed and started to self-medicate.

All of these events culminated into what he would describe as being the “most embarrassing day of my life”. While reporting on the weekend edition of Good Morning America, Harris suffered an on-air panic attack watched by 5.109 million viewers. However, all the events that led up to his panic attack were caused by something that he hadn’t yet addressed: the voice in his head.

Harris describes the “voice in the head” as the “inner narrator”. It’s the part that constantly criticizes, discourages, nags, and causes one to lose his temper. One becomes unfocused and pays too much attention to what’s happening in the past and future instead of the present. In Harris’ case, his inner voice was the one pushing him too hard to succeed, resulting in the events leading up to the attack.

Around the time of the attack, he was assigned to cover the Religious Beat for ABC News, a job he originally wasn’t enthused about. It was through his research for this new job that he discovered the self-help guru Eckhart Tolle.

It was Tolle who was the first to talk about the “voice in the head”. Finding no practical advice from Tolle, Harris continued with this research into the self-help culture and spoke to other self-help gurus who encouraged positive thinking; thinking about something you want and then getting it. However, unimpressed with this idea of what seemed to be fantasizing to reduce stress, Harris continued searching.

Through this research, he discovered Mindfulness Meditation. The process is fairly simple. First, you need to sit or stand with your back straight and eyes closed. Then, you have to feel your breath and focus on it.

The hard part is when your mind trails off and you start to think about other things; what to have for lunch, how you’re going to ask that girl out, the things you have to get done that day, etcetera.

“Getting lost and coming back is the whole game,” Harris says. It is necessary to constantly bring your mind back to the breath. Harris compares the process to going to the gym, but instead of a physically draining task it’s an “exercise for your mind”.

Mindfulness Meditation, Harris insists, can have many benefits. It helps with depression, anxiety, ADHD, lowers blood pressure, and boosts the immune system. You learn to know what’s happening in your mind and responding wisely instead of reacting blindly to events. It reduces negative thoughts and helps you disregard annoyances in life.

Today, companies such as Google, Target, and P&G allow and even encourage employees to meditate. Even members of the U.S. Military are experimenting with it to see if they can find a way to become less prone to PTSD.

Through meditation, Harris feels “less miserable” and is “experiencing less friction and reaction” in his life. It has “changed the relationship” with the voice in his head.

Harris has been meditating for five years, and recommends the skill to everyone. He practices it for half an hour daily; however, he suggests that beginners start with five simple minutes. It will increases self-awareness and reduces stress from the brain. Perhaps it’s something all college students should try?

Besides talking about his book, Harris revealed some of the toughest and enjoyable segments he’s reported on, and the advice he would give to college students. Alongside publishing 10% Happier, Harris would consider getting his job at Nightline as the other highlight of his career.

While at Nightline, he received an Emmy for a segment called “How to Buy a Child in 10 Hours”. It’s stories like this, he says, that are some of his favorite to report. He loves to investigate “people or companies who do questionable things and expose them”. Spoken like a true reporter.

Besides going undercover for the child segment, he has also gone undercover to expose predatory pedophiles in Cambodia, and spent 48 hours in solitary confinement to see if incarceration was an inhumane form of punishment. However, Harris would consider the Haitian Earthquake as one of the toughest stories he’s ever had to cover.

Haiti was difficult because of the “concentration of destruction. There was a lot of death, especially children”.

He also notes that the war in Iraq has been one of his biggest stories because he experienced the country before the war and during the insurgency. He explained the benefits and difficulties of interviewing those affected by these events.

“You have to do it very carefully and you have to be sensitive,” Harris said. But he pointed out that it can be helpful to interact with the locals because they know the language and the situation.

Harris believes though that the topic of climate change is something that he believes viewers should be more aware of. “We feel it right now…” Harris says, “…many people also get weather and climate confused,” and think that nothing is happening.

However, Harris enjoys reporting on more light-hearted news as well. One of his favorite celebrities he interviewed was Paul McCartney. “Everyone uses the word legend, but Paul is actually a legend,” Harris says of the meeting with the former Beatle. His wife Bianca, who is expecting their first child, pointed out that Harris loves any segment on animals, whether it is on a leopard, tiger, or dog.

As for advice for college students? Harris says “you have to do something you’re passionate about. The happiest have jobs they truly love. Find something you’re good at, love, and aim high for it.”

He said that if someone was interested in politics than they should run for office, and if you love to act then move to Hollywood. He emphasized that in your twenties it’s okay to make mistakes because it isn’t too late to try something else afterwards, as long as you’re doing something you love.

Dan Harris certainly has shown that throughout his career. With a job he is truly passionate about and his discovery of meditation, Harris has finally found himself “10% Happier”.