The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World

by Eric Weiner

Hardcover, 2008

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Available

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Publication

New York : Twelve, 2008.

Description

Part foreign affairs discourse, part humor, and part twisted self-help guide, this book takes the reader from America to Iceland to India in search of happiness, or, in the crabby author's case, moments of "un-unhappiness." The book uses a mixture of travel, psychology, science and humor to investigate not what happiness is, but where it is. Are people in Switzerland happier because it is the most democratic country in the world? Do citizens of Singapore benefit psychologically by having their options limited by the government? Is the King of Bhutan a visionary for his initiative to calculate Gross National Happiness? Why is Asheville, North Carolina, so darn happy? NPR correspondent Weiner answers those questions and many others, offering travelers of all moods some interesting new ideas for sunnier destinations and dispositions.--From publisher description.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member BlackSheepDances
This book sat on my shelf a shamefully long time before I decided to read it. I was afraid it was a self-help book, that all important promise on how to be happy. I hate self help books. Either they are painfully obvious or leave you racked with guilt. And apparently, it's a uniquely American trait to constantly analyze if we are happy or not, and constantly question what would make us happier.

In either case, I put this one off. I wish I hadn't.

This is most definitely NOT a self help book on how to be happy. It's a study of the world's happiest places, by country, and the author, a correspondent for NPR, explores the regions and tries to assess why these places are noted for their happiness (he also visits places that rank low on the happiness scale). He visits, in which must be the coolest job ever, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Qatar, Bhutan, India, Iceland, Moldova, Thailand, the UK, and finally the US.

He goes out, meets people, explores their culture, and really gets into their real life. He doesn't stay in hotels, he tries to room with people he either knows or friends of friends. I have yet to find other books by this author, but I'm going to look. His style is breezy, sarcastic, and much of his research is backed by studies that he quotes extensively. Lots of insights on what makes people happy, and it's definitely not money.

He surmises from his experiences that it is the culture of a locale, the history that the residents exist in, that make their lives happier and more meaningful. Being aware of their place in history, the significance of their architecture and geography, and a pride in their language contributes much towards personal satisfaction (which he explains by the example of Qatar that has money but no culture to speak of). Interaction with each other rather than isolation accounts for much of the happiness they experience (again, so much for my hermit-like theory of happiness!). This is really a must read book, if not for the insights on joy, at least for this man's entertaining writing and wit.

One insight that he has is my favorite quote of the book, something he discovered in Switzerland: "Trusting your neighbors is especially important. Simply knowing them can make a real difference in your quality of life. One study found that, of all the factors that affect the crime rate for a given area, the one that made the biggest difference was not the number of police patrols or anything like that but, rather, how many people you know within a fifteen-minute walk of your house."
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LibraryThing member bragan
The subtitle says it all, really. Journalist and self-described grump Eric Weiner travels the world searching for happiness, or at least investigating how the inhabitants of different cultures quantify their own happiness and what the concept means to them. Among other places, he visits Switzerland, where the inhabitants may or may not be entirely joking when they attribute their happiness to clean public bathrooms; Iceland, where people somehow manage to be happy in the dark; Bhutan, where the government is actively trying to prove that happiness does not reside in material goods; and Qatar, where the attitude seems to be that if money can't buy happiness, they'll just have to rent it. Also the former Soviet republic of Moldova, which, according to sociological research, is the unhappiest place on Earth.

It's an entertaining travelogue, written with a lot of humor and a pleasant human touch. Weiner does, admittedly, generalize a lot about the places and cultures he visits, but that's sort of in the nature of the exercise. And his musings, both personal and scientifically based, about the nature of happiness are interesting. If, in the end, his conclusions aren't terribly surprising, they're also not nearly as glib or facile as they might have been, either.
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LibraryThing member subbobmail
Journalist Eric Weiner -- that's pronunced "whiner," by the way -- set out to discover what happiness is and where in the world one can find it. What makes for a happy country? Do happy countries have a lot in common? The result of Weiner's (no doubt expensive) journeys is this book, The Geography of Bliss.

He starts by visiting countries that (semi?-)scientifically rate high on the happiness scale. These include Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, and Iceland. Then, for balance, he has himself a miserable time in low-ranking Moldavia. He concludes that happiness can be found in relationships, money (but not too much), alcohol (ditto), lowered expectations, high hopes, beautiful weather, icy darkness...basically, he finds that when it comes to happiness, your mileage may vary.

But who cares? Weiner is an engaging self-described grump who digs up a lot of neat facts about the places he visits. Bhutan, for instance, has more monks than soldiers. College students in Qatar have so much money that they know they can insult and ignore the (foreign) professors and still be guaranteed a degree -- after all, they paid for it. The darkness in Iceland has many, many shades, and Moldavia has nothing at all to recommend it besides very fresh produce. Et cetera.

Americans like to follow Jefferson and pursue happiness, but after his long jaunt, Weiner wonders if it's best to bloom where you're planted. It's certainly easier to do that when we have roamy books like this to read.
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LibraryThing member sillysampi
Eric Weiner is a funny grump. His style reminds me of Bill Bryson, but instead of talking about funny minuteae details of how things are done differently than home, he ruminates about what can make people happy. His pieces are all backed up from current research on happiness, but his treatment on the subject is very light. For some readers, it can feel shallow, but for me personally it's refreshing and brings the research alive in Technicolor.… (more)
LibraryThing member Hagelstein
Eric Weiner traveled abroad and in the U.S. to see what makes people happy, and found some surprises. It turns out that no matter where you live the things that we think will lead to happiness often don't, and some of the things we take for granted can be the source of most of our contentment. This book confirms a lot about what we may have suspected is really imporant in life, and is pretty funny to boot.… (more)
LibraryThing member tangledthread
This book is an entertaining journey from beginning to end. Eric Weiner uses his experience as a foreign correspondent to explore happiness, a topic not often in the news. With the help of social science research, he sets out to explore those areas which contain populations identified as happy. For balance he throws in Moldova, a country identified as one of the unhappiest places in the world.

Weiner sprinkles his narrative with social science, history, politics, economics, and even a bit of cultural anthropology. This makes for interesting reading. He not only observes but interacts with the locals and he often finds an expatriate to give the unique perspective of someone from the outside who is inside the culture. His unique perspective on what he observes is quirky and entertaining.
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LibraryThing member ChrisNewton
What makes the happiest places on earth different than other places? You'll never know from reading this book. It's such a fascinating subject too, but Weiner just skates across the surface noticing irrelevant points and skipping stuff than might actually explain the differences. He never gives any criteria for how he includes a country (suicide rate? divorce rate? Number of its citizens in therapy?)except it's in some hand-cobbled "Atlas of Happiness" he put together from a professor's database at a school in Rotterdam. He doesn't really try to understand a culture - he just makes humorous observations and slides on to the next country. Ultimately, his definition of the happiest country seems to bea place that where he, Eric Weiner, would be happy. Forget you. I didn't have the time. Maybe I should write my own book, it's a fascinating subject.… (more)
LibraryThing member co_coyote
The sub-title of this book is "One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World," which, combined with the banner "The New York Times Bestseller", is normally the kiss of death for a book I want to read. But it was a Christmas gift that was laying on the shelf one day when I really wanted something less serious to read than what I was currently reading. So I picked it up, and had a reasonably hard time putting it down.

In truth, it sometimes tries a little too hard for laughs, but it was quite interesting and it had some dynamite quotes in it for a writing project I was working on. I'm a bit of a grump myself, I guess, but I would have liked the book better with a different sub-title.
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LibraryThing member Sovranty
The idea that a place (versus frame of mind, attitude towards the experience, culture, or degree of freedom) has a great amount of power in making one happy is an extremely appealing point of research. However, Eric Weiner was not the best one to successfully complete or convey this research. While Weiner may have interviewed several people while on location, typically making the final edit were socially/relatively-financially prominent people. When describing the destinations, Weiner seemed to exaggerate stereotypes rather than give a true, personal opinion. In the end, the reader is unable to determine if a place does or does not contribute to one's happiness.

While it does have funny moments and the reader may learn some interesting facts about the different locations visited, this is not the book for the reader genuinely interested in determining if location is a major contributing factor to one's overall happiness.
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LibraryThing member snash
As befits a nebulous topic like happiness, there are no definitive conclusions in this book. In the end, the author even questions whether happiness is the ultimate goal at all. The book does, however, stimulate thought. As he charges around the world trying various country's version of happiness, he paints a unique picture of a number of countries. In many ways the book is a fascinating travelogue, entertaining and illuminating.… (more)
LibraryThing member nbmars
Eric Weiner, a correspondent for National Public Radio, does the reading for the audio version of his book describing his yearlong quest to find the world's most blissful places. As a professed “whiner” who is possibly “addicted to being unhappy,” he was looking for the secret of what makes people feel good. To that end, he went to various places rated high on sociologists’ happiness scales, such as the Netherlands, Bhutan, Iceland, and Qatar, visiting nine foreign countries altogether over the course of a year. He ended up back in the United States, which “is not as happy as it is wealthy.”

He didn't spend much time in each country, and met only a handful of residents in each, asking them to tell him if they were happy and why. These not very interesting or helpful anecdotes are supplemented by his own mildly amusing but not very helpful observations. His snap judgments about a country after so little time and exposure reminded me of when I went to Europe right after college (one of those twelve countries in twelve days excursions). Afterwards I thought I knew everything there was to know about each country I visited, and was not shy about expounding on my “insights.” Similar to my behavior back then, Weiner is prone to make over-sweeping generalizations, does not seem to have done much homework on the countries he visits, and thinks that his brief encounters with natives in coffee shops and bars have conferred enlightenment upon him.

Unfortunately, I quickly grew tired of hearing not very interesting or amusing commentary about not very well-researched subjects. After one gratuitous misquote of Cole Porter and one egregious mispronunciation (he said hyperbole as if it were pronounced “hyper-bowl”) (an NPR correspondent, no less!), that was it for me.

I listened to only half of the disks on this unabridged audiobook. I didn’t learn about much of anything except my tolerance for banality. Some of the vignettes may be worthy of a few two-minute essay spots on one of NPR’s shows like “All Things Considered.” But eleven disks? I had to stop; it was making me too unhappy.
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LibraryThing member paperloverevolution
I found this strangely cheerless for a book about happiness. It left me feeling vaguely bummed. The best part was the section on Iceland, whose people are so buoyantly and bizarrely cheerful that not even Weiner's smirky snideness could dent it. If I were his editor, I would ban him from using either "bittersweet" or "animus" ever, ever again. He used up his lifetime allotment of both of them over the course of this book. Maybe it was just me, but I feel like you'd get more out of a stack of old National Geographics than from this cranky, superficial read.… (more)
LibraryThing member rmckeown
A blurb on the title page describes this book as “One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World.” Doesn’t sound too exciting, and I admit I had some trepidation, but if ever the warning not to judge a book by its cover should be heeded, this one provides a perfect example.

Eric Weiner, a foreign correspondent for NPR, traveled the world visiting places indexed by a Dutch researcher as “the happiest places on earth.” For control, he visits one country near the bottom of the list. At each place he stopped, he gathered some clues as to what makes those inhabitants feel a certain level of euphoria about their country. One interesting feature of this journey concerns the wide variety of terms he uses to express happiness. Needless to say, he comes to some rather unusual conclusions. For example, Eric must have some personal bias toward chocolate, since it pops up over and over.

The delightful style of Weiner’s (pronounced “Whiner” he tells us) reminds me of so many detailed stories on NPR, although some of these might be rated PG-13. This wonderful book will make you want to pack up and head off to your idea of a happy place. Also, have your PC warmed up and ready to Google many of the places, food, restaurants, coffee houses, and museums he mentions. One member of our book club said Weiner needed pictures. She then proceeded to pass around a dozen or so images associated with the book. “Bliss” will give your reading group as much fun as ours had last night. 6 stars out of 5

--Jim, 9/24/09
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LibraryThing member julski
I'm still disappointed that he says NOTHING about North Carolina. Supposedly, he lives here in Winston-Salem, and teaches at WFU. If that's true, why can't I find him in any of the directories??
LibraryThing member marient
The author traveled far and wide to see if he could discover the secret of happiness. His findings are surprising and he writes with an exceptionally wry sense of humor. He visited India, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, Moldova, Thailand, Great Britian, and the United States.
LibraryThing member dchaikin
This is maybe a Bill Bryson-like in that it's intelligent, light and fun. And, there is just something inherently entertaining in the idea of going around the world to ask people if they are happy.

Weiner travels to a variety of places and cultures trying to evaluate their "happiness." It's a silly enough idea that it should put the reader off guard, expecting nonsense, then pleasantly surprise the reader when Weiner gets intelligent and into interesting philosophies, and opens ours eyes a bit. Weiner keeps it entertaining, filling in space with clever lines and ideas, and asking (but not answering) some more difficult questions like is there more to life than happiness and should we be even asking about happiness. But, Weiner really only wants to know what makes some cultures happier than others and why.

One mixed aspect: He keeps the point-of-view American by mixing in American references and relating back to an American mindset. But, when he finally gets to the US, in what could be a great conclusive chapter, he doesn't cover all that much ground.

(originally written 04/22/08; edited 05/09/08)
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LibraryThing member jamreid
Wow. I'm very happy that I picked up this book. Any fans of travel and/or other cultures should read this one.
LibraryThing member cbertz
Slogged through this book for 4 weeks. The premise of the book - examining the links between happiness and culture - is a good one. I disliked the author dropping quotes about happiness every other paragraph. On the plus side - who knew the people of Bhutan were so happy?
LibraryThing member snarkhunt
It's good, but there is much j-school style balancing of ideas. That's great in reporting, but this is a subjective travel experience.

Makes Bhutan and Thailand sound fascinating, but doesn't dig deep into the violence that sprouts up in Thailand.
LibraryThing member mochap
self-professed grump and NPR correspondent traveled the globe to identify what countries were "happiest" and why. An interesting project. I learned a lot about countries I previously knew nothing about. And remain pretty happy to live in America.
LibraryThing member gypsyatheart
Thoroughly enjoying this book which is a cross between travel, humor,self help, and just plain fun. The author's wit and writing style makes me laugh out loud, and I haven't read a book that does that for me in a good long time.
LibraryThing member debs4jc
I love to walk in the great out of doors, and while walking I love having a great book playing in my ears. My latest traveling companion is The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner, a book that I appropriately enough started while on vacation. Now back at home, every time I get it ready to listen to while walking I feel like I am on vacation again as I follow the author on his travels around the globe.
Eric Weiner is a former correspondant for National Public Radio who is no stranger to traveling to exotic spots around the globe. In this book he attempts to answer the question “does where we live actually affect how happy we are?” by traveling to those places purported to be the happiest in the world. Thus the book is a travelogue of his journeys, filled with Weiner’s musings on the nature of happiness and wry comments about the people and places he encounters. For example, when he travels to Switzerland he asks a Swissman why he thinks people in his country are so happy. “Have you seen our toilets?” the man replies, and goes on to explain that the state of cleanliness in Swiss public restrooms is a great contributor to their happiness. Scenes like this make me laugh aloud while I am listening, prompting any people nearby to ask what has me so amused.
I also enjoyed encountering some of the most exotic places in the world through his words, such as Bhutan, Qatar, and Moldova (included for contrast as one of the unhappiest places in the world). I am 99% sure I will never travel to those places, but his descriptions of them gave me a taste of what it must be like to visit these remote locales. Weiner’s background as a radio announcer also serves him admirably in the professionalism with which he narrates his own words—and hearing the stories in his own voice adds to the charm of this delightful book. Weiner’s sense of humor, wry observations and amusing metaphors definitely make this one a worthwhile listen—especially for those who like to travel or who like to learn about other countries. But be warned—if it makes you laugh aloud as much as I did you may have some explaining to do to anyone who is around while you are listening to it.
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LibraryThing member david.kafitz
A frank and funny look into the lives of many persons in this world. Weiner attempts to peer into the culture of each country and place to determine just what makes these persons tick.
LibraryThing member stonelaura
Avowed cynic and lifetime grump Eric Weiner, who also happens to be a seasoned NPR correspondent, decided to investigate happiness. He starts in Denmark at the World Database of Happiness (yes, there is such a thing!), makes stops in such diverse places as Iceland, Switzerland, Bhutan, Moldova, India, and Great Britain, before finishing up in America. He talks to scientists, professors, homemakers. house maids, gurus, and cabdrivers as he tries to understand what makes an individual, as well as a nation, happy. Some things he discovers: “Money matters, but less than we think and not in the way that we think. Family is important. So are friends. Envy is toxic. So is excessive thinking. Beaches are optional. Trust is not. Neither is gratitude.” It turns out, not too surprisingly, that the study of happiness provides for plenty of inconsistencies, and there are many different ways to reach it, as well as to assess it. While he does include may quotes and statistics (it’s surprising how many people have strong opinions about happiness), he also brings a wonderful personal touch to the journey, and his writing style is eminently readable.… (more)
LibraryThing member techszewski
Iceland. I'm moving to the land where it's dark and cold half the year. Wait, I think it's cold there even in the summer. But, it's okay because THIS is the happiest place on Earth according to this book. The place where failure is celebrated and everyone is a poet. I read this book while traveling through Xingjiang Province, not a very happy place, especially after the recent riots in Urumqi. This is a quick read and most of it seems like common sense (choose to be happy), but it was actually well researched and a well rounded trip around the globe. The title is misleading. The author isn't really that much of a grump.… (more)

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