Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Geography of Bliss

The Geography of Bliss
Author: Eric Weiner
Twelve, 2009
368 pages

I'm a geography geek. I've been one for as long as I remember. If you want to get my attention, show me a map, or start talking about your travels. I'm also interested in happiness (and the pursuit of it), so when I learned this book is subtitled One Grump's Search For The Happiest Places in the World, well, you could say it had me from the title.

Eric Weiner is an NPR correspondent who's lived in many interesting global locations and done a great deal of travel. For this project, he visited several countries and talked to lots of people to find out who's happy, who's not, and why. First up: the Netherlands, home of an academic researcher who studies happiness. The Netherlands is also known for its freedom and tolerance. Is that what makes people happy?

Other "happy" countries highlighted in The Geography of Bliss include Iceland, where people have a sort of freedom to fail (is that what makes them happy?) and Bhutan, which actually has a Gross Happiness Index (is happiness required?) Weiner also visited the world's wealthiest country (Qatar) to find out if money makes people happy (does it?) For contrast, he visits the world's unhappiest country (Moldova). These are just a few of the countries visited and questions asked.

Along the way, Weiner has all sorts of adventures: Caffeine withdrawal at an ashram followed by a death-defying motorbike ride in India. The purchase of a ridiculously expensive pen in Qatar. Interesting accommodations in Moldova. Pub time in Great Britain. He also meets all sorts of interesting people  . . . and reveals a very personal addiction (I won't say what it is, but Eric, if you're reading this, you're not alone, my friend).

So what makes people happy? You didn't think I was going to tell you the answer in this entry, did you?! Get the book. That is, if you enjoy reading about travel, psychology, and other cultures. Or if you're a geography geek. Like me.