“Where we are is vital to who we are.”
The concept of The Geography of Bliss was a fascinating one. This is a book that was featured at my library and I just picked it up out of curiosity. Between the clever title and the pretty cover I was sold. The book, as the subtitle says, is One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World, and that’s exactly what he does. Based on a scale developed by so-called positive psychologists. He visits Iceland, Bhutan, India, Qatar, Switzerland, Thailand, Great Britain, the United States and Moldova (because it is the unhappiest place in the world). Each chapter is a country, following a nice formula of meeting the locals and meeting some expats who have found their happiness in their new home. (Except for in Moldova… everyone in Moldova is depressed, I have learned.)
The book was a quick read, but it just took me a long time to finally get this review up because I never got around to reading the last two chapters after I had to return it to the library. I finally read them, and I’m afraid the book is not as fresh in my mind as I would like to adequately review it. Eric Weiner was a little too much of a grump for me sometimes. But this is not necessarily his fault, I’m just a little too optimistic is all.
After decades as an NPR war correspondant, visiting the unhappiest places in the world and letting his pessimism blossom and grow, Weiner decides that it’s time to find a little happiness. Qatar isn’t as happy as you might think, with all their money. India is a contradiction, Britain is getting happier, Icelanders like their cozy spaces and the Thais are very devil-may-care. The chapter on Bhutan was the most interesting. I would love to visit Bhutan, and the description of the fairly idyllic politics there made it more appealing. I learned lots of little tidbits of knowledge that I will store into my list of Useless Facts that I pull out of nowhere when the conversation gets dull:
- Bhutan has a Gross National Happiness quotiant.
- In Slough, the setting of the original British show “The Office,” a psychologist came to make volunteers take a happiness conference in an attempt to make the whole town happier. It seemed to have worked, a little bit.
- Asheville, NC is, apparently, a swingin place to live.
Most of the chapters were really interesting, but some of them fell short. I was not very impressed with the chapter on Qatar or the one on the United States. For me, especially the one on the US, it focused on such a small corner of each place that I couldn’t really get a good grasp on it. I thought this was particularly unfortunate with the chapter on Weiner’s own country. The chapter really was not what I was expecting, and I was disappointed. It has probably clouded my whole opinion of the book, to be honest. This might be a much more positive review if it had not been for that last chapter.
I found Weiner’s humor to be my cup of tea – a little dreary, but still funny. I wouldn’t call it laugh out loud funny, but there are some soft chuckles to be found here and there.
The book does not answer the question of what place will make anyone happy, but rather that we have to find the place that makes us happy. I like this conclusion. It does not say, move to Thailand! You will be happy! Happiness is relative, and we’ve just got to figure it out for ourselves.
Overall, it was very interesting. The concept was excellent, the conception close to great. The first 3/4 of the book were an 88%, but that last quarter left me feeling more like a 78%. Put it on your TBR for summer traveling without getting out of your beach chair.
(The cover gets a 100%, by the way.)
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