Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World
written and read by Eric Weiner

Have you ever wondered where the happiest places on Earth happen to be? The author (like myself) tends to lean more towards “unhappy,” and for this reason, Eric Weiner (former journalist for NPR) wanted to undertake this adventure of finding the happiest places in the world and discovering their secrets. Weiner’s trip started in the Netherlands with Dr. Ruut Veenhoven’s “Database of Happiness” at Erasmus University Rotterdam. There he discussed the science of happiness with Dr. Veenhoven, and he found out the different scores of happiness for the countries of the world.  

Switzerland: Weiner learned that “envy” is the enemy of happiness, and that the Swiss seem to have found happiness in contentment

Bhutan: Weiner learned that happiness comes from looking at your life realistically (not dreaming too big, so as to not be too disappointed), and that contentment can come from small things (such as saving a beetle that falls onto it back).

Qatar: Weiner learned that money definitely cannot buy happiness, and that a country needs something to unite them (such as a shared culture like Iceland).  

Iceland: Weiner learned that failure (or at least no fear of it) is something that can lead to happiness, and that a love of their language and culture has united and inspired the people of Iceland.

Moldova: Weiner found out that this is the unhappiest country, so he visited Moldova to gain some perspective (he also needed some time on the other side). He found out that there are lots of reasons why Moldovans are unhappy (poverty, envy, corruption, distrust, powerlessness, and a lack of singular culture for the people), and the author was actually happy to get away. Interestingly enough, the people were all happy about their fresh fruits and vegetables.

Thailand: Weiner found that the answer to happiness and unhappiness may lie in the amount of thought that you give to happiness. Thai people are more focused on living happily than wondering why they are happy. Weiner thought there was a lot of merit to this way of thinking. The Thai people also explained that they do not take things too seriously. Bad things happen, but there will be good things that come, too.

Great Britain: Based on their results from the database, Weiner learned that the British were relatively happy, but the man at immigration was not so convinced (he was, instead, suspicious). Great Britain is a country that looks down on self-help books and therapy as a sign of weakness. Keeping “a stiff upper lip,” does not seem conducive to happiness, but Weiner was ready to persevere. Weiner decided to visit the town of Slough, known for its unhappiness, and met with the individuals who had taken part in the “Making Slough Happy” BBC series. What he found out from the people who had participated was a very simple lesson, “home is where the heart is” (or you are happiest where you feel you belong).

India: India is in not one of the happiest nations, but Weiner decided to visit there as part of the experiment. Weiner learned that in India, the people are okay with something being two things that are contradictory to one another. Things can be both good and bad at the same time, and that is okay. People in India also focus on living in happiness now, rather than worrying about it later.

United States: Weiner ended his experiment by discussing happiness with some citizens that live in Ashville, North Carolina. Weiner believes that Americans are always thinking that happiness is just around the corner, such as when buying that new item that one has been looking forward to or when making that move to the place that is different than where one is now living (not realizing until afterward, that these things will not make someone happier in the long run, which leads to more unhappiness).    

During his search for “happiness,” Weiner shared a lot of his thoughts and research on happiness (especially lots of quotes from philosophers, authors, and great “thinkers”), and these were all very interesting. He concluded that there is more than one path to happiness (which he learned from happiness researcher, John Helliwell), and this idea definitely fits with all of the observations he made during his travels. Happiness is not “paradise” (that would drive anyone crazy eventually), but it is 100% “relational” (intertwined with other people). I found myself chuckling at the antics and situations that Weiner found himself in throughout his journey, and I really enjoyed traveling along with him, even though I was just in my car.

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