The Geography of Bliss

Maybe we can all stop worrying about what we think and analyzing all that stuff and just refocus on where we are doing our thinking.  That is the premise behind The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner.  What if how happy you are is all about WHERE you are?

Confession:  We left Toronto and moved to Victoria BC because we felt that we would live closer to our ideal life there.  The outside of Victoria mirrored our interior so that might explain why a good friend gave me this book a while back.

Who is the Writer?

I was absolutely drawn to the fact that the writer has spent a decade as a foreign correspondent for National Public Radio.  NPR.  The American CBC.  I listen to NPR and I felt sure that I would like a book by any one who worked for NPR.  Not even to mention that he has been a reporter for The New York Times.  The New York Times!  I’m starting to fawn.  The writer is a real live journalist who has immense amounts of experience and he brought journalists sensibilities to this journey around the world (well, he did visit a lot of places) in search of the happiest place on earth.  (Oddly enough, he did not go to Disney Land)

Why did he write the book?

Eric Weiner has always loved to travel, as witnessed by his career as a foreign correspondent, but I thought it touching that this book was inspired by a belief that his journalistic life had been spent roaming “..the world telling the stories of gloomy, unhappy people… (they) make for good stories. They tug at heartstrings and inspire pathos.  They can also be a real bummer.”     And so our somewhat world weary, and I thought grumpy, reporter sets of on a year traveling the globe looking not for troubled spots, but for happy places.   He himself calls it a “harebrained experiment” but nonetheless he takes on the task of discovering if happiness is in us, or out there.  Out where we live.  Does where we are matter as much or more than who we are?

To do this he travels to the Netherlands, Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland Moldova, Thailand, Great Britain, and India and back to his home country, the USA.  All in ten entertaining chapters.

Who is this book for?

This book is for enjoyment.  The most like a beach read that I have come across yet of all my reading.  Written to encourage thoughts about happiness, it is also a travelogue, a crusty mans journey into his preconceived notions, and an often funny and personal story.  A pleasure read that happens to be very well researched with references to not just national studies about happiness around the world and the sayings of great thinkers.  With equal weight, he shares the thoughts and learning’s of friends and people he meets in his travels.

What I’m taking from this book and putting into my tool kit

Some of the things I want to remember from this book, in no particular order are:

-Clean Toilets are a sign of civilization and can increase a societies overall happiness rating

-Bhutan has a policy regarding Gross National Happiness and every decision the government makes is run through the prism “Will this action we’re about to take increase or decrease the overall happiness of the people?”  When was the last time Stephen Harper asked this question I wonder?

-Moldova proves that if you have no culture and no community then you will become hopeless ala Martin Seligman’s’ theories.  The result is great sadness as all artists know.

I loved this part

Studies show that 15,000 dollars a year buys happiness.  Per person.  All inclusive.  Americans are an average of three times wealthier than a half a century ago, yet are no happier.  Reminds me that money can facilitate happiness, but never truly buy it.

What bugged me?

Eric was the journalist throughout and so he brings a very different perspective to his writing.  I don’t think it bugged me, but it was a real change in a book about happiness to find a writer who was not trying to teach me how to be happy, but rather was seeing places and people and things and reporting back to me.  He gives his readers a lens that they can use to consider how different elements in these different places might affect each one of us.  So it didn’t make me want to travel, but it did inspire me to scrutinize the habits born of my geography more thoroughly.

Words of caution

This book will not teach you how to be happy.  It will not encourage you to make vision boards, or even necessarily to travel.   Don’t read it to solve your problems or get the answer to the meaning of life.  Even at the end he dodges a committed conclusion and offers general observances and I think leaves it up to the reader to decide.  Which is as it should be, because one of the things he learns is we all need and want different things to be happy.  I heartily agree.

Wrap up

I enjoyed reading this book.  It was combinations of personal essay, travel journal, and scotch soaked bar talk.  I have to say though, for whatever reason, the “bliss’ is in the title but the book is all about “happiness”.  Perhaps Eric had an aversion to the ‘h’ word?

Rating : 4/5

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