Published in: United States
Published: January 2009
Fortified with Eeyoreish fatalism—I’m already unhappy. I have nothing to lose—self-confessed grump Eric “Whiner” took a yearlong tour of a very unusual assortment of countries (sample: Holland, Qatar, Bhutan and Iceland), most of which have been chosen because they are home to some of the happiest resident populations in the world, (although a couple are chosen to present a contrast). Weiner is confronted with a few inconvenient truths. Contrary to expectations, neither greater social equality nor greater cultural diversity is associated with greater happiness. In the end, he realized happiness isn’t about economics or geography. Maybe it’s not even personal so much as relational. There are some interesting conclusions drawn about what does and doesn’t make for happiness, about the importance of democracy and wealth (so revered in the US) and how they are part of the answer but far from being the solution.
In the end, Weiner’s travel tales provide great happiness for his readers. Weiner has a lovely turn of phrase (reminiscent of Bill Bryson) and although The Geography of Bliss wasn’t as laugh-out-loud funny as I expected (more dryly amusing), it is both immensely readable and packed to the gills with fascinating nuggets of information.
If you’re looking for a definitive answer to the book’s premise, i.e., that happiness is about place, you might be disappointed. If, however, you are game for a journey about exploring that concept, Eric Weiner’s book is for you. At once intelligent and witty, Geography of Bliss takes the reader to unfamiliar places to meet strangely familiar people. That’s because the essence of what makes us happy (or unhappy) is basically the same everywhere, alloyed only by our culture and circumstances. Weiner has studied the scientific literature on happiness, too, and weaves it into his narrative, which he leavens with a steady stream of clever quips. It’s a book that will make you think and laugh on the same page. And, it might just make you happy.
The book can teach Americans some valuable lessons and I recommend it big time.
It takes a chapter or two to decide you like him, and another to realize that you like him a lot, but by the time the trip is over, you find yourself hoping that you’ll hit the road together again someday. The Geography of Bliss is a journey too good to be rare.