Weiner travels to each of those countries—as well as Moldova, the unhappiest country—to try to make sense of happiness. He comes up with all sorts of possibilities:
- "Happiness is low expectations."
- "Maybe we can't really be happy without first coming to terms with our mortality."
- "Trust is a prerequisite for happiness."
- "The greatest source of happiness is other people."
- "People who are too busy are happier than those who are not busy enough."
- "Happiness is not the absence of suffering but the presence of something."
His experiences in each country were fascinating. I thoroughly loved Weiner as a narrator. He was just self-deprecating enough but not so much as to be annoying, and he was never arrogant. I laughed a lot. I found his descriptions of the people in these countries to be terribly enlightening, although at times he did drag on some. But still, the book is an excellent cultural journey.
He comes back to the United States in the end, and I loved the way he wrapped up the book with a return to his roots. (The U.S., by the way, is ranked 23rd among countries on the happiness sacle.) What makes Americans happy, he wonders? Not surprisingly, the number 1 answer was money. But in spite of our blatant materialism, we think about happiness and celebrate happiness more than any other country, says Weiner.
In the end, he says, he had some "nagging doubts" about his journey. Is happiness really the most important thing anyway? Is "are you happy" even the right question?
My only gripe with this book is that Weiner totally leaves out religion. The closest he comes to a discussion of the effects of religion on happiness is when he is in India. For me this was the elephant in the room, and I can't quite grasp how Weiner could have completely ignored this. Or why.
Nonetheless, I highly recommend the book. I hope Weiner finds more than "50/50" happiness in his own life—or is that even possible for a self-proclaimed grump? Hmm.
Other Reviews of The Geography of Bliss
The Book Kitten