Reading: The Geography of Bliss – Eric Weiner

geography of bliss eric weinerI might as well come right out and say it: I simply adored The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner.

I’ve been meaning to read this book since it was published in 2008, and though I’m bummed I didn’t pick it up earlier, I’m so glad I finally took the time to read it.

The full title of this book is The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places on Earth. In it, Weiner takes a trip through ten countries while doing research on happiness. I think the subtitle of “One Man’s Search for the Happiest Places on Earth” is a bit of a misnomer, as Weiner doesn’t just visit happy places on his journey. I think the real point of this book is to figure out what makes people happy. Weiner is really on a search to define happiness and what a collective definition of happiness means to a society. In doing so, he visits several countries that appear to be happy in some aspect as well as others that should be happy by definition and those where people definitely are not happy.

Though this book is described as part travel narrative/part memoir, I really found it to be an interesting study into happiness. I love that Weiner traveled around the world to speak to different people about how their cultural norms and expectations played into the way they feel. And I also love that he directly asked so many people whether they were happy and why it is they felt that way.

I’ve done some thinking about happiness, primarily as it relates to myself. Am I happy? What makes me feel happy? What I haven’t thought about is how outside cultural influences play into those responses. What Weiner discovered during his research is that the mindset, societal expectations and overall belief system of a place are key pieces to measuring a person’s—and by extension, a place’s—happiness.

Some of his key discoveries including the following:

  • Money can’t buy happiness. It helps free up time and mental resources to pursue other interests that can lead to happiness, but financial security in and of itself cannot be used to buy smiles.
  • Freedom to pursue creativity takes stress off of people. This is related to the idea that high expectations are a recipe for failure, and in cultures where failure is not acceptable (and where expectations are high), happiness is not as rampant.
  • Trust is one of the key components of happiness. Trust in neighbors, trust in a higher power, trust in the government, trust in yourself. Conversely, when people don’t have a sense of trust—when they believe others are out to get them, they think they’ll fail or they feel unsafe—unhappiness follows.

Though Weiner travels to many countries throughout The Geography of Bliss—the Netherlands, Moldova, Qatar, Bhutan, Iceland—it really isn’t a book about travel. What it is is an opportunity to see things from a different perspective, to contemplate the age-old concept of happiness from several different lenses. In turn, it made me think about happiness in an entirely different way, and it made me question my own preconceived notions about how to achieve it.

I highly recommend The Geography of Bliss. If it’s been sitting on your bookshelf as long as it sat on mine, it’s time to pick it up.

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