Defining Success: Dan Harris

Dan Harris is co-anchor of both Nightline and the weekend edition of Good Morning America on ABC News. He is also the author of 10% Happier, a #1 New York Times bestselling book about a fidgety, skeptical news anchor who stumbles upon meditation. Recently, Harris launched an app specifically designed to teach meditation to doubters and busy people. The ancient practice – too long associated exclusively with hippies and robed gurus – has been shown by modern science to boost resilience, focus, creativity, emotional intelligence, and overall mental and physical health. With meditation and mindfulness now embraced by executives, athletes, educators and entertainers, Harris has become a leading voice for pushing for the practice into the mainstreamusing plain English and dry humor. He is an excellent speaker for corporations, health and wellness organizations, and schools and universities.

In 10 % Happier, Harris tells his story as only a reporter can: through deep research, tough questions, and a healthy dose of irony. The book is part investigation and part immersive journalism: one man’s accidental quest to boost his happiness quotient without losing his professional drive. After learning about research that suggests meditation can do everything from lower your blood pressure to essentially rewire your brain, Harris took a deep dive into the underreported world of CEOs, scientists, and even marines, who are now using it to be calmer, happier, and less yanked around by their emotions. The book takes readers on a ride from the outer reaches of neuroscience to the inner sanctum of network news to the bizarre fringes of America’s spiritual scene, and leaves them with a takeaway that could actually change their lives.

The app co-founded by Harris, 10% Happier: Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, mixes the irreverence of the book with simple, practical, down-to-earth instructions. Users get short, daily videos in which Dan discusses the practice with some of the world’s greatest teachers. The app also comes with a personal coach who can answer questions and keep users accountable.

Most recently, 10% Happier is now also a podcast, where Dan talks with smart people to answer the question: Can you be an ambitious person and still strive for enlightenment? 


How do you define success?

I don't have a hard definition for success. Everyone has to define it for themselves. To borrow a phrase from someone I quoted in the book who is the lead singer in an indie rock band [Apples and Stereo, Robert Schneider], who said his goal was to “make awesome shit and be kind.” That is a great way to put it. I am a capitalist – I have a kid and live in NYC so I have no problem making money. I am also a Buddhist so I think a lot about money and its importance. What’s enough? It's all a work in progress.

How do you measure your own success?

I used to have easier answers to this when my career was focused solely on TV. My career has changed a bit so there’s a number of metrics that I use to measure my success now. The ratings for the shows I host is an objective measure. If I'm covering stories that I feel are really important and well executed, that's a subjective way I can measure my success. I also ask myself, "What percentage of my time am I doing something that I really care about and are the results good?"

I’m now a small businessman, so the app’s success is measured by the money raised and how many subscribers we have. I ask, "How are we doing at attracting new talent?"

For the podcast, it’s about how many reviews and downloads we have and what the ranking is. For the book it’s how many copies we’re selling along with the book's Amazon ranking. Those numbers are meaningful for me. I have a bad habit of obsessively checking my Amazon rank.

Those are all numbers, and it’s important for me to know that people are enjoying my work.

It’s okay to want money, notoriety and approval – as long as that’s mixed with being of service.

How does success feel?

I still do an insufficient job at enjoying it. I do what many ambitious people do - rush into thinking "how am I going to beat this, and what’s next? Whatever I do next, will it be as good as this?"

I did allow myself to enjoy book success, though. I never spent so long working on one thing until I spent four to five years working on the book. When I first started pitching it to publishers, I got a really bad response. Only one publishing house wanted to buy it and for very little money. I realized I felt so strongly about the project that even if nobody bought it, I was going to do it.

I remember getting out of bed the day after the book came out. I checked the Amazon rank and it was #2 in the world, of all books. I got back into bed and my wife Bianca and I just sat there and laughed. We couldn't believe it. We kept laughing for a long time.

I was giving a talk in Miami a few weeks later, and my agent called and said “You’re #1 on The New York Times Best Seller list.”

I called Bianca and we couldn't stop laughing.

It felt really meaningful. While there was a lot of ego in it, there was also the feeling that it was helping people. I was leading them to a practice that would be good for them. I wanted to understand this stuff for myself, and the only way to do that was for me to write.

When was the last time you felt successful? What happened?

When I started the podcast  I had a good feeling about it. I didn't expect Apple to get behind it and feature it so when they did, that was a huge win.

I’m really used to failure. When I first tried to get into TV news after college, I was rejected everywhere. I’ve been demoted. I’ve been passed over for lots of jobs. I’ve started an indie rock show on YouTube called 'Amplified' and it was not well received. I know what it’s like to fail.

So, when I started the podcast, I was psyched to do it and thought it would be a fun medium for me. I was able to build an audience right away thanks Apple featuring it so prominently. It’s one of the most amazing and rewarding things in my life right now.

How do you celebrate your success?

I share it with the people who were doing the project with me. It's about making it a shared victory and experience.  

Nothing feels real about anything until I share it with my wife. The term "mudita" in Buddhism is sympathetic joy. Bianca does it so well. She’s a fun person to share good news with.

What advice would you offer to someone who wants to be successful?

Find something you’re really psyched to do that aligns with your talents. Don’t be an asshole – the people who are collaborative, good listeners and trustworthy are the ones who really succeed.


Connect with Dan:

Twitter: @danbharris | Website: 10percenthappier.com