10% Happier and 100% Human: ABC News Anchor Dan Harris Gets Real with Good Girl Go

Dan Harris, co-anchor of ABC Nightline and the weekend edition of Good Morning America.

Dan Harris, co-anchor of ABC Nightline and the weekend edition of Good Morning America.

For years, Dan Harris has delivered news stories as a respected ABC News anchor. Now, he’s delivering a new story – his own. Dan is a gifted story-teller. He’s in one of the toughest, ratings-driven professions on the planet where there is very little room for error and being “perfect” in the public eye goes with the territory. How ironic then that his first book, 10% Happier, exposes his imperfections. With humor and an authenticity that we don’t often see, he succeeds without preaching to teach us about Meditation. At the end of his story, the mother in me just wants to hug him and say “thank you. Thank you for being so brave and honest.”

If there’s one thing Good Girl GoGoGo likes to write about it's life-affirming stories about good people who work through difficulties and then have the strength to share their stories with others so that they, too, may heal.  In a previous Good Girl story I wrote about the Hero's Journey, “I can’t help but be reminded that when we think of the archetype mythological hero and his journey, we intuit a man, his journey and his struggles, and his ability to impart wisdom to others upon his return home.  The key to this myth is that throughout his travails the hero [actually] stops along the way to ask for directions from wise guides who make his journey more…meaningful.  It is this ability – to ask for guidance as well as to share knowledge - that turns a mere mortal into a Hero because he is both able to listen and learn as well as to teach and help others.

Dan would be THE LAST person to call himself a Hero, especially in light of the fact that he has reported from war zones in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq where people put their lives on the line every day. Dan is a different type of hero, a hero whose story reminds those of us who are suffering that we’re not in this alone and that there IS a healing path to wellness – you just have to be open to it and willing to practice, and then practice some more.  

Dan Harris’ book 10% Happier came out in March 2014 and by April, it shot to #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. If you think the book’s success is the result of the massive ABC megaphone that helped to propel it, think again.  Its success is down to something far less cynical: an overarching societal craving to slow down and get a better handle on things and to be more…human.

It takes a lot of courage for anyone to share their personal story, let alone someone in the public eye. Dan is pretty hard on himself, but with a self-deprecating sense of humor.  In a manageable 237 pages he distills the concept of ‘monkey mind.’ Using accessible language and his personal journey as backdrop, he deciphers Meditation.  Lucky for us, he demystifies the airy language, cuts through the cosmic goo and shows us how science supports the practice of mindfulness.

 

Dan’s story begins ten years ago with an on-air panic attack in front of 5.019 million viewers. What unfolds is a lively tale about a young man in a thrilling job and the consequences it has on his health. After covering the war in Afghanistan and visiting the Taliban home base in Kandahar Dan writes, “I was hooked.” Reporting from the war zone was “journalistic heroin.” His story continues with whizzing bullets overhead in Tora Bora where he was under additional pressure to prove that he was not too green to cover the war. 

Dan Harris reporting from Kandahar. Harris was one of two western reporters in the city during U.S. bombardment.

Dan Harris reporting from Kandahar. Harris was one of two western reporters in the city during U.S. bombardment.

In talking with Dan, he was clear about his experience: “I liked what I was doing. It was thrilling.” At this point, his already addictive personality accelerated way beyond his mother’s chocolate cake and morphed into a more serious addiction to adrenaline. When he came back home, he says “life was flat and grey and that’s when I stupidly started to self-medicate on the weekends with cocaine” … and then came the on-air panic attack. Your heart breaks for him when you watch it, but don’t worry – he’s anything but pathetic, and definitely bounces back.

Dan knew he needed to change his habits. What he didn't know is that he had to change his way of thinking, too. His book catalogs his progress through years of discovery and challenge and one of his life’s many ironies: the profession that led to his adrenaline addiction ultimately led to his “salvation” as well.

Dan went from covering the war to covering religion in America, a different sort of war zone. It was another beautiful life irony for Dan: the assignment he was least interested in personally [Religion] brought him to his most profound personal discovery – Meditation. Like a reluctant rower on a river leading to Nowhere-other-than-Salvation, Dan met many pivotal characters along the way – Evangelical Pastor Ted Haggard; Self-help gurus, Joe Vitale, Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra; oh, yes, and Paris Hilton – some of whom are encapsulated here in The 6 Strangest Things Self-Help Gurus Have Told Me.

He also interviewed His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, who admits "Enlightenment does not depend on rank. It depends on practice!" It's an endearing exchange where they easily talk about Enlightenment, Anger, Reality, Impermanence, Illusion...watch it!

Dan gradually grew into the assignment and accepted that “at a time when religion had become so venomously divisive, thoughtful reporting could be a way to take audiences into worlds they’d never otherwise enter, and in the process demystify, humanize and clarify.” Little did he know he was taking himself into a new world, edging closer and closer to Meditation.

Dan resisted meditation. Apart from his understandable aversion to pan flutes and hand symbols, he wanted science to prove its benefits. He also feared judgment from friends and colleagues. He writes “I would either clam up and get a sheepish look on my face, the way dogs in Manhattan do…or I would launch into an off-putting, overly emphatic lecture…” By the end of his story things change on this score. Not only is Dan more comfortable with it, his bosses and colleagues are too. 

It’s clear from Dan’s story that he has a good boss in Ben Sherwood, the kind we all dream about [he has since been promoted to Head of ABC]. Ben, the antithesis of a detached overseer, encouraged Dan to “UP YOUR GAME,” and become a “LEADING MAN.” I asked Dan “what is it about Ben that made you trust him enough to come clean and talk about 'old stories of drug abuse'?” I learned from Dan’s reply that the trust was always there. There wasn't any big emotional build up to coming clean. I can’t help but feel happy for Dan when he describes his boss…  

"Ben is an extraordinary guy. I’ve had a long relationship with him. He’s charismatic and really smart and attuned to detail. He just loves being involved."

Dan writes about “the warm glow” volunteers receive from their acts of kindness. With bosses like Ben Sherwood, I believe it’s possible for a corporation to grow a warm glow of its own by being “kinder.gentler” to its employees. ABC has most certainly been a leader on that score as it presents itself as a family, proudly and lovingly supporting one another through life’s journey. Dan Harris is not the only ABC family member to tell his story. Fellow ABC anchors Amy RobachElizabeth VargasRobin Roberts have opened up, too. They are all living, loving, breathing HUMAN beings with real stories to share, stories that can help others heal and live healthier, happier lives.

ABC’s on-air talent is taking huge personal leaps and successfully connecting with Modern-day America, the part of it that is wounded and desperately in need of a “release”. In a consumer driven society of hard-work and material gains, we all care about who and what touches us. It's good to know that when the news is delivered to us and touches our lives it's coming from someone who is human after all. 

One of my friends, a New Yorker through-and-through, says “Dan’s one of the lucky ones. He was able to catch himself and allow himself to be human.” I’d say Dan’s doubly lucky he has the support of a good boss and fellow colleagues…triply so when you consider that Dan has great people in his life and his journey can be measured by the love and wisdom he received along the way from his doctor, his family and friends, and from his caring, intelligent wife, Bianca.

In this world of “perfection,” it’s refreshing and wonderfully real and daring for a news anchor, of all people, to share his story so that others might heal, too. For those cynics who call it a PR ploy on ABC’s part to use its on-air talent to boost ratings, I’d say they have it all wrong. ABC is definitely looking after its tribe. You can feel the love and it’s contagious. Who cares if the ABC megaphone was used to promote personal stories? They would be stupid not to use it. Look at all the ways it can help to heal millions who are wounded and have no idea where to turn to let the healing begin. If they keep it up, ABC could usher in an age where corporate America takes metta breaks instead of coffee runs... and the world would be better for it.

Throughout his book, Dan carries around a motto like a litmus test “the price of security is insecurity” believing that his security is measured by his vigilant self-criticism and worry. By the end of the book, he’s come a great distance, far enough to learn that there’s so much more to gain than to lose by being 10% Happier and 100% Human.