Thursday, January 27, 2011

Book Review: The Geography of Bliss

Subtitled "One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World," this book is exactly that: Eric Weiner (pronounced "whiner," he points out) decides to find the "wheres" of happiness. Why do happiness experts proclaim that places like Holland, Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, Thailand and India house the happiest people in the world?

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
Sophisticated Dorkiness
Lotus Reads
Regular Rumination


Suzanne said...

This is one of my favorite books.

To speak to your point about religion, I believe his next book is on that very topic and I can't wait for its release.

anno said...

been lurking via Google Reader for some time, following your reviews and recommendations. If you ever wonder whether your posts make a difference, know this: at least one person totally depends on them.

This book, however, has been one of my favorites, and I still have a chapter or two to go. Like you, I've wondered why he skips any substantive discussion of religion, and I'm interested in hearing that he has another book coming out on that topic.

Thanks for a wonderful recommendation!

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

Excellent review, and thanks for linking to mine. I'll add yours. I didn't really think about him leaving out religion, but now that you mention it that's a great point.

Queenofthehill said...

I still haven't finished this book because I'm savoring it vs. lapping it up, like I usually do with books that make me laugh out loud. And I never savor. (Just ask my kids what I just did to that bag of Swiss chocolate their daddy brought home...) It's almost like I fear finishing it. What if I don't find the answer to tweaking my personal happiness meter before spring automatically resets it? I'll feel hopeless!

This is the first book since The Little Prince that I feel compelled to buy 10 copies of and spread around my circle of influence. Love it.