The Geography of Bliss

Everyone wants to find happiness, and Eric Weiner is no exception.  In his non-fiction / travel book, The Geography of Bliss, Eric, a self-proclaimed miserable grump, and former National Public Radio correspondent, tries to find happiness by looking for the happiest places on Earth.

With the help of scientists from the World Database of Happiness, Eric visits different countries which score high on the  Happiness Index, in hopes of finding the secret to attaining happiness. His search for the happiest places and people takes him to different countries around the World, some predictable, others downright surprising.

Not surprisingly, countries like The Netherlands, Switzerland and Great Britain have high scores on the happiness index.  Weiner believes that the Dutch’s tolerance for everything and everyone is what makes them happy, while the Swiss’ clockwork efficiency, precision and diplomacy is key to their happy albeit, boring lives.

Weiner was surprised to find that Iceland, a country covered in ice and darkness half of the year scored relatively high on the happiness index.  His trip to Iceland teaches him a thing or two about Viking happiness and mindset and, contrary to popular beliefs, physical environment does not seem to play a key role in determining people’s happiness.

He travels to Bhutan, a tiny country in the Himalayan Mountains where Gross National Happiness is measured by the government alongside Gross National Product;  to India, where contradictory ideas coexist side by side, creating a unique sort of happiness; and to Qatar, a country so rich it can afford to buy a culture.

In Thailand, Weiner finds out that happiness and thinking do not go hand in hand, and that in Great Britain, happiness is something you have to work for; and finally he goes back to America, to see if home really is where the heart (and happiness) is.

To complete his research in finding out what makes people happy, Weiner doesn’t stop with just visiting the happiest people and places on Earth – he also visits a reportedly unhappy country and equally unhappy people:  Moldova.  By visiting a country which scored low on the happiness index, Weiner hoped to find and understand factors which make people unhappy.

Weiner’s visits to happy and not so happy countries of the world taught him a lot of things about happiness and people – most of which he had already known before starting  his quest.

So did he eventually find the much sought after happiness he was looking?  I don’t know, and neither does he.  But he did sum it up nicely when he wrote:

Money matters, but less than we think and not in the way that we think.  Family is important.  So are friends.  Envy is toxic.  So is excessive thinking.  Beaches are optional.  Trust is not.  Neither is gratitude.

I enjoyed reading this book immensely.   Each chapter is devoted to one country on his “happiness” itinerary.  His observations of each country’s people and culture are mostly generalizations, (which he admitted to at the end of the book) but they hold true, nonetheless.  In his humorous stories about each country he visited, he included the bad and the ugly with the good.

Regardless of their score on the happiness index, he made the countries he visited seem very interesting, and indeed, the next time I plan my vacation, I will consider one of the “happy” countries he mentioned.

And who knows, maybe I can find a little bit of happiness for myself while I’m there.

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