Waking Up by Sam Harris [Summary]

This is a comprehensive summary of the book Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris. Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski. Supporting Members get full access.


Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion is a book that explores spirituality. After all, it’s mentioned in the subtitle. The goal though is not to convert you to Christianity, or any other form of religion or tantric belief. Sam Harris tries to derive the best out of the known to man doctrines – without forcing the reader to pledge and obey a cult-like figure or a divine animal – in order to give us the essence of these teachings. And while the goal is noble, the book itself feels structureless and without a clear agenda.

The Core Idea:

A lot is covered in the book – from spiritual leaders, best praying practices, meditation techniques, to drugs, psychedelics, and communes. And while you’ll surely get confused when reading, the key idea kind of looks like this: Spirituality, not religion is the thing we should focus on. Although regular faith wants to help people, it remains monopolistic and narrow-minded. Spirituality, on the other hand, is pure, open-minded, it will help you find your true self and calm your mind.


  • Bringing joy in your life is about finding inner happiness, not surrounding yourself with stuff.
  • The current moment is all we have. Focus more on the present moment, and avoid constantly thinking about a better future.
  • If you let it, your mind will bury you with thoughts. To handle the inner chatter, learn to meditate.

The 5 Key Lessons From Waking Up:

Lesson #1: True Happiness Is Inner Content

The traditional way to get a hold of happiness known to man consists of collecting artifacts that promise joy and satisfaction – more money, clothes, luxury goods, a house, a spouse, friends, attention from others, and all the other shiny things we see on the commercials. Yet, we all know that having access to these well-polished items is not enough.

Getting a salary boost and buying a boat will excite you, yes. But the excitement will last for how long? A week? A month? And then what? We’re back playing catch.

People devoted to spiritually approach happiness from a different angle.

These folks don’t rely on getting stuff to feel good. They think that true happiness should be present even when the modern items we consider pleasure-giving are removed.

So, instead of pursuing artifacts that bring joy for a little while, they detach themselves from the world and from what we consider worthy, to find happiness within.

That’s why people fast, live alone in the woods, inside caves, don’t speak for months, meditate for years.

And if you think about it, you’ll quickly realize how profound this approach is. After all, if you train yourself to feel happy without external stimulus, you’ll more easily endure hardships and remove the self-sabotaging thoughts from your consciousness.

If there exists a source of psychological well-being that does not depend upon merely gratifying one’s desires, then it should be present even when all the usual sources of pleasure have been removed. Such happiness should be available to a person who has declined to marry her high school sweetheart, renounced her career and material possessions, and gone off to a cave or some other spot that is inhospitable to ordinary aspirations.” Sam Harris

Lesson #2: Our Minds Are All We Have

In a materialistic society that praises looks and money over wisdom and decency, it’s hard to understand that our minds are all we have. That our minds and the thoughts that circle inside our grey matter is what truly matters.

Nope. You still want that long coat with matching boots. After all, no matter how pure and well-intended your views are, you can’t snap and share a picture of your thoughts online to show how sophisticated you are. Even if you do, in the form of text, for example, you’ll be considered a cheesy slogan sharing guy. And that’s totally uncool online.

However, in every breathing moment you experience, your mind plays a role.

How you interact with others. How you approach your goals. How you treat your spouse and your children. The activities you do during your day. Every experience is heavily influenced by your mind. Every feeling you have is based on your mind.

This realization means one thing: Make sure that the thoughts that cycle inside your skull are serious.

If you allow only good-intended thoughts and block the ones that inspire hate and jealousy, you’ll have more reasons to be satisfied now, in the present moment. Thus, feel more comfortable in your own skin.

Hey there, sorry to interrupt…

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