In 2008 Eric Weiner wrote and published the book The Geography of Bliss, one grump’s search for the happiest places in the world. This paper describes Mr. Weiner’s search for happiness over the course of a year, traveling through ten very different countries, including our own land America. His search has sent him through the darkest corners of the world to the brightest and busiest places of all. “Places that possess, in spades, one or more of the ingredients that we consider essential to the hearty stew of happiness: money, pleasure, spirituality, family, and chocolate, among others” (pg. ). Mr. Weiner’s search began in the Netherlands at Rotterdam’s World Database of Happiness where he searches for, the happiest places, and even the unhappiest. “All cultures value happiness, but not to the same degree” (pg. 15). Weiner is a grump, he likes his coffee and occasional drink and doesn’t seem to be very comfortable with the word happiness. This journey took him all over the world in his own personal search for that word, Happiness. Weiner is one of the few that were able to show us where happiness is and was able to describe it with greatness.
Indeed Eric Weiner did find happiness; the search can lead you on a journey to many different places. For some the search is futile, for others it is the journey and the destination that they find remarkable and the most meaningful. You should ask yourself, what is your happiness level? For the Swiss Happiness is found in boredom, this is their way of life. At first Weiner wasn’t too fond of the Swiss, either, uncomfortable with their quiet satisfaction. The Swiss are Efficient, Clean and, according to Weiner, chocolate is the most important element of Swiss bliss. The Swiss consume mass quantities of chocolate, and there is some credible evidence that chocolate makes us happier. In order to investigate this link, I visit a chocolate store. It reminds me of an art gallery, an edible art gallery. The clerks lift the truffles with tongs, as if they were handling some rare and precious jewels. There is an entire wall of chocolate, with every type imaginable. Chocolate made with cocoa from Colombia and Ecuador and Madagascar. Chocolate laced with orange and raspberry and pistachio and raisins and cognac and rum and pure malt whiskey.
I buy one of each and take them back to my hotel room, feeling quite literally like a kid in a candy store. I lock the door and spread my catch on the comforter. I bite into the Madagascar, and it is good — there is no such thing as bad Swiss chocolate” (pg 43). Weiner argues that a forgotten ingredient in the secret to happiness is contentment. Elation is not necessary and ecstasy is not required to be happy, only the calm appreciation of a stable government and the monotony of wealth. There are a whole different variety of other characteristics about the Swiss people that no one has general knowledge about.
For instance he describes Switzerland as a super-nanny country where “In many parts of Switzerland, you can’t mow your lawn or shake your carpets on Sunday. You can’t hang laundry from your balcony on any day. You can’t flush your toilet after 10:00 PM” (p. 33). I found the fact as crazy to say the least. But the Swiss certainly don’t mind, and it is a very different culture. “We need a new word to describe Swiss happiness, Conjoyment. Yes, that’s what the Swiss possess: utter conjoyment” (pg. 48). Qatar and Bhutan are two countries that are difficult to reach. Both have unfriendly climates and a low population.
Both have changed greatly over the years allowing changes in the lifestyle of their citizens. Bhutan exercises a policy of gross national happiness ”which aims to supplement the more traditional measure of progress, gross national product” (pg. 62) and has a great deal of trust in their king. Trust in your government, as it turns out, is one of the key factors to being happy. In Bhutan, the people have a healthy attitude toward the reality of death and they do not deny death. This also contributes to their happiness. Weiner defines Qatar’s happiness as a lottery ticket.
Thanks to its oil, is one of the richest and wealthiest countries in the world, “Qatar is a nation built on gas. Underneath the sand, and in the warm waters of the Persian Gulf, lie the world’s third-largest reserves of natural gas, enough gas to heat every home in America for the next hundred years” (pg. 99). This apparent luck, like winning the lottery, has the ability to both significantly increase and decrease people’s happiness. “The entire nation of Qatar is like a good airport terminal: pleasantly air-conditioned, with lots of shopping, a wide selection of food, and people from around the world” (pg. 107).
Qatar doesn’t taxes its citizens and electricity, health care, and education are all free for citizens. When a Qatari man gets married, he is gives him a plot of land, an interest-free mortgage, and a monthly allowance of several thousand dollars. “Qataris have no taxation or representation so they feel disconnected from their own society” (pg. 118). Its people however, have no culture at all which Weiner found depressing. One of Weiner’s amazing journeys to happiness was the dark and cold country of Iceland who recognized failure as happiness. Our fear to fail has stopped many from doing things we have wanted to do.
It’s wonderful to be able to see how other cultures deal with being human. “Iceland consistently ranks as one of the happiest countries in the world. In some surveys, it ranks number one” (pg. 142). Colder climates are happier. There’s the Get-Along-or-Die Theory. In warm climates we can be isolated if we want. In harsh climates, we need each other. Weiner observed that there did not seem to be much envy in Iceland, everyone seems to be an artist of some kind, and the relationship Icelanders have with their language and the joy they get from it. They also loved their large quantities of alcohol but only on the weekends. It is difficult to argue with such sturdy, Nordic logic” (pg. 145). Iceland, can obtain national bliss easier than huge countries such as the U. S. It seems like people have more trust in each other therefore peace and happiness and sometimes drunkenness, is able to run wild without a care in the world. Weiner decided to visit and experience the most miserable place of all time, Moldova. Moldova compares themselves to the richer countries even though they have absolutely no wealth. They also had no nationalism to fall back on after the Russian empire collapsed.
The people are neither Russian nor Moldovan. They exist in a nether world of no identity or culture. How can you feel good about yourself if you don’t know who you are? There seems to be a lack of regard for trust and friendship in Moldova and proves that if you have no culture and no community then you will become hopeless. “Their unhappiness breeds mistrust, which breeds more unhappiness, which leads to more mistrust. ”(Pg. 211). Happiness is definitely somewhere else and probably in their vegetables and their fruit since that’s the only good thing about that country.
Thais are happy and one of their beliefs is that too much thinking will make you unhappy: “Thinking is like running. Just because your legs are moving doesn’t mean you’re getting anywhere. You might even be running into a headwind. You might even be running backward. ” Thailand is a place where as Weiner so delicately puts it, Happiness is not thinking (p. 219). Giving a sharp contrast to Americans, Thais conveniently, intersperse their fun throughout the day, as opposed to the American tradition of work now; play later. Introspection and simplicity are important aspects of the Thai way of life.
Although these characteristics are only scratching the surface of Buddhism, they do tend to float to the top of the pool in Thai society. When stressed, or, say, cut in front of in the lunch line, they do not curse and scream at the top of their lungs; a scene all too familiar here in the states. They inhale slowly and exhale slowly. “You can’t change things outside yourself, so you change your attitude” (235). These practices are common for all Thais, not just practicing Buddhists. The nationally calm attitude is the most pertinent example of this “fun-loving but not easily understood people” (236).
Thailand is a place where happiness can be whatever you want it to be, which seems a bit ironic because happiness is an ever-changing mold for everyone. At one point in Weiner’s Thailand journey, he visits a fortune teller. After the candles are lit and the medium tells him some things that are true, and according to Weiner easily assumed, and some things that are not true. She even tells him some things that are remarkable. But when the million-dollar question is asked, “where will I be happy? ” (239), the medium tells him it’s best to stay in his homeland; to me a truly anti-climactic ending to such an eerie conversation.
Weiner’s ultimate conclusion from all his travels is that “home is where the heart is”. Heart, one can only assume to mean family, friends etc. This is not too far off the mark from Thailand philosophy. Great Britain is truly a work in progress in making others happy. Weiner came across the BBC who was leading an experiment with Six “happiness experts” set out to change the psychological climate of Slough. Their were Fifty volunteers known as the “Happiness Brigade” who helped spread happiness through the town in the program “Making Slough Happy. ” It resulted in Slough residents boosting their happiness levels by 33%.
They hoped that everyone in Britain would follow. Money, success, power or fame doesn’t guarantee a happy life. It’s family and friends, community, and the simpler pleasures that make you happy. Weiner’s take on the whole thing was that Great Britain’s happiness is still a work in progress. Impressed by the Happiness Brigade, he takes himself to the graveyard, and spots a memorial to a woman who died in 1914 at exactly his age. He then vowed to himself that every day will be a bonus. The city of Slough were given 10 Steps to Happiness by psychologists and other “happiness experts” on how to become happier: 1.
Plant something and nurture it. 2. Count your blessings at the end of each day. 3. Have Take time to talk with a loved one for an hour each week. 4. Phone a friend whom you have not spoken to for a while and arrange to meet up. 5. Give yourself a treat every day and take the time to really enjoy it. 6. Have a good laugh at least once a day. 7. Exercise more for half an hour three times a week. 8. Smile at and/or say hello to a stranger at least once each day. 9. Watch less TV. 10. Spread some kindness – do a good turn for someone every day “India does not disappoint.
It captivates, infuriates, and, occasionally, contaminates. It never disappoints” (pg. 275). India exists in a mystical realm beyond American happiness. Happiness translates differently from culture to culture. Indians are firm believers that one is a child of destiny. When unhappiness comes their way, they accept it as something that they have no control over. It brings acceptance and peace. Weiner visits an ashram. He soon becomes at peace while he learns that Hindus and Muslims may have more in common —that happiness and unhappiness is a matter of the divine Every country has its quirks.
If you flush your toiler past 10 pm it’s a huge catastrophe In Switzerland. India, where Westerners seek their bliss at the feet of gurus. The best thing in Moldova is their fruits and vegetables, one should think that they should be healthy but that is definitely not the case. Thailand derives pleasure from sobriety (accept when you decide to indulge yourself, occasionally). Qatar is intoxicated by their wealth, understandably become distrustful of others and become disconnected from the world.
Iceland has possibly one of the most unique quirks of all; they are big on eating pretty food especially that tasty flavorful shark. In Bhutan, the people have a healthy attitude toward the reality of death and they do not deny death. They enjoy solitude and Buddhism is seamlessly integrated in the culture in ways that produces happiness. Happiness could also be used for a good laugh and a conversation with an old friend to lift your spirits. Despite the many different conclusions that Weiner comes across after visiting each country, there is one conclusion that remains the same.
Family is important, never rely on alcohol as your soul source of happiness, and home is where the hearts is. Despite Weiner’s conclusions from his travels, my own travels, and hence my own conclusions have come to quite a different outcome. Happiness is not something you can pick up at the store; it is not something that can be found by simply traveling the globe. Happiness is earned over a lifetime of searching and striving, and even then it is not certain. No matter if you are in Switzerland, Thailand or the cold, drunken region of Iceland, happiness is not a place, it is not a physical entity.
Some questions will never be answered through life and, unfortunately, happiness is one of those puzzle pieces that is commonly lost before the puzzle is finished. But by those fortunate few, those of us willing to embrace the good and the bad, happiness is found and treasured. Geography of bliss goes through the world and back. Weiner sees different cultures in different regions of the world. Weiner shows how different governments work, their art, music, language and other cultural aspects that explain how and/or why people function as they do in the areas in which they live in.
It also looks at people from different countries and understands why they are happy, and how they are differently happy. I loved Geography of bliss and Weiner’s love of bags, travel and caffeine made his story even funnier. I recently traveled to India and I thoroughly enjoyed when he talked about India I felt as if I went back and was with him in the streets trying to maneuver through traffic. His humor is outstanding when he explains “making slough happy. ” His adventures with Moroccan hash, The book shows more than a travel book would show or explain to us.
I’m glad he didn’t hold anything back and explained his life to me as if I was his best friend. Happiness is definitely different depending on your destination. I will pass this book along to my circle of friends and family and hopefully they will like it as much as I do. that happiness is: * Not thinking too much * Clean toilets * Boredom * Acceptance of our insignificance in the larger scheme of things * Realistic expectations * “Below the navel” * Outside * People * Freedom * Communism * Acting happy * Sounds of a busy city * Home