Friday, January 29, 2010

Review: The Geography of Bliss

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner is at once a travelogue, sociological study and memoir. Weiner, a foreign correspondent for NPR, traveled the world for a year in an effort to determine how place and the characteristics of that place influence an individual's happiness. The book is a very interesting combination of Weiner's personal observations of each country visited and an examination of the science of happiness (don't worry - the science is touched upon very lightly; this is not a technical book by any means).

This book is right up my alley - I love to travel and learning about new cultures. Happiness and how people derive happiness in their lives is such a core part of a country's culture. The differences in definitions of happiness in each country and how that influences a country's "happiness quotient" certainly gave me pause and made me examine how I define happiness. Here are some interesting questions/thoughts to consider from Weiner's visit to each country:

  • Netherlands -There is more to life than pleasure - do we want to achieve our happiness or just experience it?
  • Switzerland - "Happiness is not feeling like you should be elsewhere, doing something else"
  • Bhutan - much has been written recently about the fact that Bhutan measures GNH (Gross National Happiness) versus GNP so I was not surprised to see it included on Weiner's journey. In Bhutan, there is discussion about the fact the "personal happiness" is not a concept that makes sense to the Bhutanese because "All happiness is relational"
  • Qatar - "Is there a point where excess comfort actually dilutes our contentment?"
  • Iceland - Is happiness a choice? How much of our happiness is determined by genetics or our environment?
  • Moldova - How does the de-valuation of friendship and trust within a culture affect people's happiness?
  • Thailand - Thinking about happiness makes us less happy. Could all our introspection negatively impact our ability to be happy?
  • Great Britain - What is the impact of immigration on a country's happiness? Is there a connection between the homogeneity of a population and its people's ability to be happy?
  • India - happiness and misery live side by side here. How do people reconcile their personal happiness experienced within their circle of family and friends with gross unhappiness on the streets outside their homes?
  • America -"When it comes to thinking about happiness, pondering it, worrying about it, cogitating over it, bemoaning our lack of it, and of course, pursuing it, the United States is indeed a superpower" No wonder the book sold well in the US! Would readers in other countries even read a book like this?
What are your thoughts on any of the questions above? How do you define happiness? Where is your happiest place?


  1. Very insightful !!! Happiness, I do believe is a relative term, totally depending on an individuals situation at a given time or period..
    My happiest place is at the moment with my kids, be it in India or U.S. or wherever, when thay are with, which is always, Iam happy...
    I love your blog, adding you in my blogroll.

  2. I've had this one sitting on my shelf for too long, which is strange because this is a book that's made just for me.

    I'm happiest when I feel the most fulfilled. And for me that comes with spending time with the people I love and doing the things I'm passionate about. For me, it's not about things -- I don't think it's possible for things to make you truly happy. It's about what you take in to yourself and how you release it back out into the world. If that makes any sense! :)

  3. this sounds like a very interesting book, thanks for the summary of each country!

    when am i the happiest? when i am not sad or angry or disappointed or mad or... :) seriously, i am pretty content so i am happy :)

  4. I reviewed this book last year and I agree with you, it's fascinating. It's such a great read, unexpectedly really. I am anxious for more of his books as he writes more since he has such a breezy and snappy style.

    nice blog!

  5. This sounds so interesting - definitely a book that will make you think! For some reason the quotes from Netherlands/Switzerland stuck out the most for me, but the America one was great too ;)

  6. Wow this book sounds fascinating! I love reading books about other cultures and this I think would be one that would really stick with me. I'll have to check it out!

    When am I happiest? When I am surrounded by those I love.

  7. I heard the author interviewed on NPR last year and have kept the book in the back of my mind ever since. This is the first review I've seen...think I'll look for it at the library next week..

  8. I need to pull this one of the shelf where it has been languishing!

  9. I need to get my hands on this one. I love the study and comparision on different cultures. Off my my library website :)

  10. Sounds very interesting. THANKS for sharing.

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