DiscoverTen Percent Happier with Dan Harris#332: The Profound Upside of Self-Diminishment | George Saunders
#332: The Profound Upside of Self-Diminishment | George Saunders

#332: The Profound Upside of Self-Diminishment | George Saunders

Update: 2021-03-222


There is a powerful scene in a novel called Lincoln In the Bardo, where President Abraham Lincoln has come to the cemetery where his young son, Willie, is soon to be buried. Willie had passed away at the White House where he had gotten sick. Lincoln is so distraught that he goes to the graveyard to get one last glimpse at his boy’s dead body. As the President is leaving, and in the grips of perhaps the worst psychic pain available to any human, he has an insight. His suffering, he realizes, comes from viewing his son as solid, when, in fact, they are both just “energy bursts” or “two passing temporarinesses.” 

There is a reason this insight will be familiar to anyone with a passing familiarity with Buddhism, and that is because the author, George Saunders, is a practicing Buddhist. Lincoln in the Bardo won the 2017 Man Booker Prize for best work of fiction in English. Saunders has written ten other books, including the newly released A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, which is about how to become a better reader and that can tell us about how to live. This was an enormously valuable conversation for me, both as a meditator and as an author (because he has many, deeply useful thoughts about the craft). We talk about many things here, including: the “unified theory of brain,” how writing resembles meditation, his speculations about the afterlife, and a speech he gave on kindness that went viral. 

Another order of business: In response to our ever-changing reality, we’ve done our best to use this podcast to help you figure out how to navigate our world. And as you know, the practice of meditation undergirds nearly all of the practical takeaways you hear us discuss on this podcast. Many of our podcast guests have also contributed to our companion meditation app, which is also called Ten Percent Happier.

Our app helps you understand both how to practice meditation and how meditation can help you navigate our ever-changing world. We hope that you'll subscribe to our app to learn how to care for yourself and others during crises (which are, after all, inevitable). 

To make it easier, we're offering 40% off the price of an annual subscription for our podcast listeners. We don’t do discounts of this size all the time, and of course nothing is permanent—so get this deal before it ends on April 1st by going to

And here’s a link to Love & Resilience: The Contemplative Care Summit (March 25 - 29).

And finally, be sure to check out The Science of Happiness podcast, available here and wherever you get your podcasts. 

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#332: The Profound Upside of Self-Diminishment | George Saunders

#332: The Profound Upside of Self-Diminishment | George Saunders

ABC News