10 Percent Happier summary
According to Tolle, the ego is our inner narrator, our sense of “I.”
The ego is never satisfied. No matter how much stuff we buy, no matter how many arguments we win or delicious meals we consume, the ego never feels complete.
The ego is constantly comparing itself to others. It has us measuring our self-worth against the looks, wealth, and social status of everyone else.
The ego thrives on drama. It keeps our old resentments and grievances alive through compulsive thought.
...the most powerful Tollean insight into the ego was that it is obsessed with the past and the future, at the expense of the present.
“The fact that you exist is a highly statistically improbable event, and if you are not perpetually surprised by the fact that you exist you don’t deserve to be here.”
The Buddha himself didn’t claim to be a god or a prophet. He specifically told people not to adopt any of his teachings until they’d test-driven the material themselves. He wasn’t even trying to start a religion, per se. The word Buddhism was actually an invention of the nineteenth-century Western scholars who discovered and translated the original texts.
...the Buddha’s main thesis was that in a world where everything is constantly changing, we suffer because we cling to things that won’t last.
The route to true happiness, he argued, was to achieve a visceral understanding of impermanence, which would take you off the emotional roller coaster and allow you to see your dramas and desires through a wider lens.
I had an entirely different attitude about meditation. I didn’t like it, per se, but I now respected it. This was not just some hippie time-passing technique, like Ultimate Frisbee or making God’s Eyes. It was a rigorous brain exercise: rep after rep of trying to tame the runaway train of the mind.
...mindfulness is the ability to recognize what is happening in your mind right now—anger, jealousy, sadness, the pain of a stubbed toe, whatever—without getting carried away by it. According to the Buddha, we have three habitual responses to everything we experience. We want it, reject it, or we zone out. Cookies: I want. Mosquitoes: I reject. The safety instructions the flight attendants read aloud on an airplane: I zone out. Mindfulness is a fourth option, a way to view the contents of our mind with nonjudgmental remove.
The point of mindfulness was to short-circuit what had always been a habitual, mindless chain reaction.
The Buddhists had a helpful analogy here. Picture the mind like a waterfall, they said: the water is the torrent of thoughts and emotions; mindfulness is the space behind the waterfall.
What mindfulness does is create some space in your head so you can, as the Buddhists say, “respond” rather than simply “react.” In the Buddhist view, you can’t control what comes up in your head; it all arises out of a mysterious void. We spend a lot of time judging ourselves harshly for feelings that we had no role in summoning. The only thing you can control is how you handle it.
The Buddha’s signature pronouncement—“Life is suffering”—is the source of a major misunderstanding, and by extension, a major PR problem. It makes Buddhism seem supremely dour. Turns out, though, it’s all the result of a translation error. The Pali word dukkha doesn’t actually mean “suffering.” There’s no perfect word in English, but it’s closer to “unsatisfying” or “stressful.” When the Buddha coined his famous phrase, he wasn’t saying that all of life is like being chained to a rock and having crows peck out your innards. What he really meant was something like, “Everything in the world is ultimately unsatisfying and unreliable because it won’t last.”
...hedonic adaptation.” When good things happen, we bake them very quickly into our baseline expectations, and yet the primordial void goes unfilled.
At the end, the meditator arrives at the true goal of Buddhist meditation: to see that the “self” that we take to be the ridgepole of our lives is actually an illusion. The real superpower of meditation is not just to manage your ego more mindfully but to see that the ego itself has no actual substance.
The brain, the organ of experience, through which our entire lives are led, can be trained. Happiness is a skill.
Studies showed that the best way to engineer an epiphany was to work hard, focus, research, and think about a problem—and then let go. Do something else. That didn’t necessarily mean meditate, but do something that relaxes and distracts you; let your unconscious mind go to work, making connections from disparate parts of the brain.
“Yes. Practice of compassion is ultimately benefit to you. So I usually describe: we are selfish, but be wise selfish rather than foolish selfish.” This was an entirely new spin for me. Don’t be nice for the sake of it, he was saying. Do it because it would redound to your own benefit, that it would make you feel good by eroding the edges of the ego.
Overall, compassionate people tended to be healthier, happier, more popular, and more successful at work.
Striving is fine, as long as it’s tempered by the realization that, in an entropic universe, the final outcome is out of your control. If you don’t waste your energy on variables you cannot influence, you can focus much more effectively on those you can. When you are wisely ambitious, you do everything you can to succeed, but you are not attached to the outcome—so that if you fail, you will be maximally resilient, able to get up, dust yourself off, and get back in the fray. That, to use a loaded term, is enlightened self-interest.
“...nonattachment to results” was my long-sought Holy Grail, the middle path, the marriage of “the price of security” and “the wisdom of insecurity.”
...quote from Jon Kabat-Zinn and put it up on your wall: “Meditation is not about feeling a certain way. It’s about feeling the way you feel.”