Dan Harris is a self-described “fidgety and skeptical news anchor” who would probably be the last person you’d expect to buy into the hocus pocus of supposed new age wellness. But after suffering a live, on-air panic attack on “Good Morning America,” the ABC News correspondent took up meditation not because he was in search of a magical solution, but rather because of the overwhelming scientific evidence that it just works.
After his attack, Harris became an advocate for the practice and even wrote a 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— in which he compiled his personal story with copious amounts of research backing the benefits of meditation. This includes, among other things, a boosted immune system, lower blood pressure, and assistance in combating psoriasis as well as other conditions. Plus, there’s the benefit of hacking your brain: “The neuroscience is where it really gets sci-fi. There was a study out of Harvard that shows that short daily doses of meditation can literally grow the gray matter in key areas of your brain having to do with self-awareness and compassion and shrink the gray matter in the area associated with stress.”
Harris cites another study out of Yale that shows evidence of meditation’s ability to train the brain to block out stressful digressions and instead focus on the here and now. This ability to shush the distracting voices in your head is why groups ranging from U.S. Marines to Olympic Athletes to elementary schoolchildren have all taken up the practice. And Harris thinks meditation’s biggest popularity surge is still in front of it: “In the 1940s if you told people that you went running they would say, who’s chasing you. Right now if you tell people you meditate – and I have a lot of experience with telling people this, they’re going to look at you like you’re a little weird most of the time. That’s going to change.”
Learn more about the science of meditation in this clip from his Big Think interview: