February 01, 2008

Book - Geography of Bliss

Every morning I listen to NPR, just before and just after getting out of bed. Some time ago I heard an interview with long time NPR correspondent Eric Wiener, who had recently written a book The Geography of Bliss. Eric had spent a year traveling to the happiest places on earth, and a few unhappy ones just for comparison.

Eric, a self styled grouch and occasional hypochondriac started by consulting a professor in the Netherlands who runs, believe it or not, the World Happiness Database. From there he made a short list, beginning his explorations in Holland itself. Each of the following chapters is dedicated to a country – Switzerland, Bhutan, Iceland, India, Britain, Moldova, and Qatar to name a few, finally ending back home in the good ole U.S. of A.

Eric writes in a witty and conversational style which I found endearing. He’s certainly no academic, but no preacher either. He has a knack for putting the reader on his shoulder as he travels.

Over and over, one thing comes through. Each country has its own path to happiness, they are many and varied, but inevitably happiness rests not in money, time, control, or weather, but in other. Happiness lies in the people we surround ourselves with, in the connections we have, and in the communities we create.

While the happy countries are happy in a multiplicity of ways, the unhappy countries all suffer from something that disconnects people from one another. In Moldova it was “not my problem” syndrome. Eric found that envy of any kind was a type of poison. Switzerland gets along so well by making sure no one is jealous of them. No one wants what Switzerland has. Heck, they’ve done such a good job no one is even sure what it is they have.

There were no great conclusions, no profound revelations, no epiphanies. Eric manages to weave a story which is just downright fun to read without having to ever bother with trying to figure out what the point is. I recommend it to anyone who feels like a lazy weekend or a good pre-bedtime mood lightening.

Happiness is….(you fill in the blank.)

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