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

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

4.1 94
by Eric Weiner

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Part foreign affairs discourse, part humor, and part twisted self-help guide, The Geography of Bliss 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 beguiling mixture of travel, psychology, science and humor to investigate not what happiness is, but where it is. Are…  See more details below


Part foreign affairs discourse, part humor, and part twisted self-help guide, The Geography of Bliss 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 beguiling 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 damn happy? With engaging wit and surprising insights, Eric Weiner answers those questions and many others, offering travelers of all moods some interesting new ideas for sunnier destinations and dispositions.

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Weiner spent a decade as a foreign correspondent reporting from such discontented locales as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Indonesia. Unhappy people living in profoundly unstable states, he notes, inspire pathos and make for good copy, but not for good karma. So Weiner, admitted grump and self-help book aficionado, undertook a year's research to travel the globe, looking for the "unheralded happy places." The result is this book, equal parts laugh-out-loud funny and philosophical, a journey into both the definition of and the destination for true contentment. Apparently, the happiest places on earth include, somewhat unexpectedly, Iceland, Bhutan, and India. Weiner also visits the country deemed most malcontent, Moldova, and finds real merit in the claim. But the question remains: What makes people happy? Is it the freedom of the West or the myriad restrictions of Singapore? The simple ashrams of India or the glittering shopping malls of Qatar? From the youthful drunkenness of Iceland to the despond of Slough, a sad but resilient town in Heathrow's flight path, Weiner offers wry yet profound observations about the way people relate to circumstance and fate. Both revealing and inspirational, perhaps the best thing about this hilarious trip across four continents is that for the reader, the "geography of bliss" is wherever they happen to find themselves while reading it. (Spring 2008 Selection)

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Grand Central Publishing
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6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

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The Geography of Bliss

By Eric Weiner


Copyright © 2007 Eric Weiner
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-446-58026-7


My bags were packed and provisions loaded. I was ready for adventure. And so, on a late summer afternoon, I dragged my reluctant friend Drew off to explore new worlds and, I hoped, find some happiness along the way. I've always believed that happiness is just around the corner. The trick is finding the right corner.

Not long into our journey, Drew grew nervous. He pleaded with me to turn back, but I insisted we press on, propelled by an irresistible curiosity about what lay ahead. Danger? Magic? I needed to know, and to this day I'm convinced I would have reached wherever it was I was trying to reach had the Baltimore County Police not concluded, impulsively I thought at the time, that the shoulder of a major thoroughfare was no place for a couple of five-year-olds.

Some people acquire the travel bug. Others are born with it. My affliction, if that's what it is, went into remission for many years following my aborted expedition with Drew. It resurfaced after college with renewed fury. I desperately wanted to see the world, preferably on someone else's dime. But how? I had no marketable skills, a stunted sense of morality and a gloomy disposition. I decided to become a journalist.

As a foreign correspondent for National Public Radio, I traveled to places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Indonesia. Unhappy places. On one level, this made perfect sense. Unconsciously, I was observing the first law of writing: Write about what you know. And so, notebook in hand, tape recorder slung over my shoulder, I roamed the world telling the stories of gloomy, unhappy people. The truth is that unhappy people, living in profoundly unhappy places, make for good stories. They tug at heart strings and inspire pathos.

They can also be a real bummer.

What if, I wondered, I spent a year traveling the globe seeking out not the world's well-trodden trouble spots but, rather, its unheralded happy places? 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, chocolate, among others. Around the world, dozens of what-ifs play themselves out every day. What if you lived in a country that was fabulously wealthy and no one paid taxes? What if you lived in a country where failure is an option? What if you lived in a country so democratic you voted eight times a year? What if you lived in a country where excessive thinking is discouraged? Would you be happy then?

That's exactly what I intended to find out, and the result of this admittedly harebrained experiment is the book you now hold in your hands.

I was born in the Year of the Smiley Face: 1963. That's when a graphic designer from Worcester, Massachusetts named Harvey Ball invented the now ubiquitous yellow grinning graphic. Originally, Ball's creation was designed to cheer up people who worked at, of all places, an insurance company, but it has since become synonymous with the frothy, quintessentially American brand of happiness.

Ball's cheery icon never worked its magic on me. I am not a happy person, never have been. As a child, my favorite Winnie-the-Pooh character was Eeyore.

For most of human history, I would be considered normal. Happiness, in this life, on this Earth, was a prize reserved for the gods and the fortunate few. Today, though, happiness is not only considered possible for anyone to attain, it is expected. Thus I, and millions of others, suffer from the uniquely modern malady that historian Darrin McMahon calls "the unhappiness of not being happy." It is no fun at all.

And so, like many others, I've worked at it. I never met a self-help book I didn't like. My bookshelf is a towering, teetering monument to existential angst, brimming with books informing me that happiness lies deep inside of me. If I'm not happy, they counsel, then I'm not digging deep enough.

This axiom of the self-help industrial complex is so deeply ingrained as to be self-evident. There's only one problem: It's not true. Happiness is not inside of us, but out there. Or, to be more precise, the line between out there and in here is not as sharply defined as we think.

The late Harvard professor Alan Watts, in one of his wonderful lectures on Eastern philosophy, used this analogy: "If I draw a circle, most people, when asked what I have drawn, will say I have drawn a circle or a disc, or a ball. Very few people will say I've drawn a hole in the wall, because most people think of the inside first, rather than thinking of the outside. But actually these two sides go together-you cannot have what is 'in here' unless you have what is 'out there.'"

In other words, where we are is vital to who we are. By "where," I'm speaking not only of our physical environment but also our cultural environment. Culture is the sea we swim in. So pervasive, so all consuming, that we fail to notice its existence until we step out of it. It matters more than we think.

With our words, we subconsciously conflate geography and happiness. We speak of searching for happiness, of finding contentment, as if these were locations in an atlas, actual places that we could visit if only we had the proper map and the right navigational skills. Anyone who has taken a vacation to, say, some Caribbean island and had flash through their mind the uninvited thought "I could be happy here" knows what I mean.

The word lurking just behind the curtain is, of course, that tantalizing, slippery concept known as paradise. It has beguiled us humans for some time now. Plato imagined the Blessed Isles, a place where happiness flowed like the warm Mediterranean waters. Until the 18th century, people believed that Biblical paradise, the Garden of Eden, was a real place. It appeared on maps, located, ironically, at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in what is now modern-day Iraq.

European explorers prepared for expeditions in search of paradise by learning Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. I set out on my journey, my search for paradise, speaking not Aramaic but another obscure language, the modern liturgy of bliss spoken by the new apostles of the emerging science of happiness. I brush up on terms like "positive affect" and "hedonic adaptation." I carry no Bible, just a few Lonely Planet guides and a conviction that, as Henry Miller said, "One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things."

And so, on a typically steamy day in Miami (itself some people's concept of paradise), I pack my bags and depart my home on what I know full well is a fool's errand, every bit as foolish as the one I tried to pull off as a peripatetic five-year-old. As the author Eric Hoffer put it, "The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness." That's okay. I'm already unhappy. I have nothing to lose.


Excerpted from The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner Copyright © 2007 by Eric Weiner . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 94 reviews.
PixieRM More than 1 year ago
Suggested to me in the steam room after mentioning that I had recently returned from living in Switzerland, I bought the book a week later. Not only did I thrill to see that the Swiss contacts were our friends, but I got hooked on wondering what made each country unique and "happy". The research on happiness (and learning that it is a verifiable academic discipline) was a pleasant finding and the reasons different countries self-assessed as "happy" ranged widely. The author's quirks intrude a few too many times; his likes and dislikes made this reader wonder if she might have found more to like about the countries than he did, more willingness to participate and not stand back and judge. It is a light read and a satisfying one, despite the above statement. Iceland was clearly a favorite -- of the author; thus, also of the readers. Friends who had worked in Moldova and learned to love the resiliance of the people would have presented a very different picture of the country than the author did as he rushed to put it behind him.
JadeWant More than 1 year ago
A book club's selection, curious about what might bring about happiness, I was excited to get started reading. Whether where someone lives has an impact on happiness or whether we succumb to wealth’s toys, (monetary), or when we are simply comfortable and adjust to compromise has anything to do with our happiness. Weiner made the journey to ten different countries in the world and spent time in each place. He questions along the way how nature, government, freedom, or restrictions have a bearing on our happiness. I think we have all learned in our own lives that money doesn’t bring happiness. Culture, perfect weather, beautiful surroundings….:if you are an unhappy person inside yourself nothing outside will do it for you. Some are miserable no matter what. Most of those are born that way. Happiness is personal and individual. I enjoyed his rich descriptions and insight into each culture. His discoveries and introspective experiences with the people we are able to share are hilarious.
DarcyBeeKind More than 1 year ago
Eric Weiner, a self-described "grump," hops around the globe in a yearlong search of how people of various countries embody happiness. The Geography of Bliss is a travelogue with an appealing twist - to "search for the happiest places in the world." The reader travels along with Weiner to ten different countries. At each stop in his journey, Weiner provides the reader with entertaining descriptions as he works to understand what makes people of a particular country.happy. Happiness takes on many definitions throughout his travels; however, the author does not always find this bliss during his stops. In fact, the description of his experiences in one country left me feeling downright depressed, until I pulled my head out of the book and readjusted to my beautiful surroundings (I read this book while on a three-month stint in southern Germany - quite a happy place with those Bavarians and their Weissbeir). Weiner organizes The Geography of Bliss with each chapter dedicated to a single country - he visits the Netherlands, Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, Moldova, Thailand, Great Britain, India, and his home country of the United States. Your country is not on the list? Please do not let this discourage you from picking up the book! Each chapter is a chance to understand another culture and to explore a different route to your own personal happiness. Weiner notes "Culture is the sea we swim in - so pervasive, so all-consuming, that we fail to notice its existence until we step out of it." You can learn more about how happiness is exemplified within your own culture and countrymen by stepping out of it - all without leaving your favorite reading chair. Fair warning for readers from counties included in this book: These are Weiner's observations of HIS experience, in your country, over a short period of time. This is a grand opportunity to view the chapter on your country as constructive criticism from an outsider looking in, to consider this new perspective on your homeland for all it has to offer. Even though Weiner is an insider to my country - the United States - I agree with many of the seemingly negative points he makes. Even with the increase in material possessions (a constant drive for happiness here), the United States is no happier than in the 1950s when we had much less - an interesting point and something from which to learn. My dear friend, who is Indian, read the chapter on India and disagreed with much of Weiner's observations. We both, however, agreed with the majority of Weiner's notions on Switzerland, having both recently traveled there. Weiner's search for bliss is rewarding and eye-opening. He reveals to the reader some of the peculiarities, the issues, and the assets of the countries visited - making our world a little bit smaller. At the end of his journeys, Weiner sums up his search for happiness with a bit of advice about where to find it - and, as you can guess, it is not found on a map.
missliz More than 1 year ago
Really enjoyed this book. Eric Weiner both cracks me up and intrigues me-- and the reader can most definitely tell what his favorite countries may have been (Bhutan and Iceland) because his writing shines in these chapters. I found it to be well researched and it seems like he really tried to meet with people who would help him to understand each country better. Already loaned the book out. I most definitely recommend it.
Thiscarolina More than 1 year ago
In this book the author takes us along a search for happy places based on resarchers' findings on what countries score higher on happy scales. It is an interesting perspective for an (mostly cranky) American in search for happiness, trying to find the secret to it. It takes us to countries scoring high and one example of a country consistently scoring low. I particularly enjoyed reading about Bhutan and Iceland, both examples of countries scoring high. Sometimes the author seems too narrow in his view of places and cultures, in spite of being a person who has worked and lived outside of the US. The are no big revelations, but it is easy to read and allows you to put in perspective your own happiness and the factors that may be related to it. I would definetively recommend it to my friends not as a part of their spiritual journey, but as a fun book to read this summer.
KalieLyn More than 1 year ago
We all want to know the "secret of happiness" and where we should move to find this "bliss", yet where do we begin? Uprooting his own life for the quest, The Geography of Bliss author, Eric Weiner, takes his readers on an adventure to the happiest - and not so happy - countries of the world. Written with humor, knowledge and unashamed candor, this book is hard to put down. Readers will enjoy the different countries that are featured. For each country, Eric Weiner explores the elements and people of the country, what makes it a happy or unhappy place, and asks its citizens one simple question: "are you happy?". His wit and description of his travels have some similarity to that of Bill Bryson's and yet, Weiner stands out as a travel writer on his own. While one more "unhappy" country could have been explored, the 9 places that were featured are ones that are seldom in other travel stories. It was very interesting to read about Moldova, Qatar and Iceland, along with all of the other countries. The Geography of Bliss is a recommended read. It is funny and thought-provoking and will be a book that you pass on to others.
SuzeJones58 More than 1 year ago
I really liked this's the kind of book that kept me glued to the pages, reading for hours. I would have read it one setting if it weren't for my family! 'Geography' is a guy's rendition of EPL (Eat, Pray, Love...Elizabeth Gilbert},i.e. the search to soothe one's soul MINUS THE DRAMA! It even features the obligatory stay at an ashram in India. Thoroughly enjoyable and permeated with a sense of the wry. I especially enjoyed the visits to those cultures whose happiness seems just beyond the means of ordinary working folks (like me!). Just as enjoyable as the reports on the ordinary happy cultures are the contrasts with other types of cultures. I'm happy I read this book, which means it really must have done its job, considering it is about seeking out bliss. I'm happy to recommend The Geography of Bliss!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book - I found it so thought provoking. Interesting process to figure out where the happiest place on earth might be - and makes you think about what makes people happy and why. I've given it as a gift several times since I read it and everyone loves it. Highly recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We read this for a book club. It is hilarous. Especially the rotten shark. I had never heard of it before. I love the insight on happiness for others in places and way I could never imagine.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
great book to read on vacation. great for discussion in book clubs. covers an intersting topic of happiness More than 1 year ago
The Geography of Bliss One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World Eric Weiner ISBN: 9780446698894 Hachette, 2008 Reviewed by Debra Gaynor for, 02/09 4 stars What is happiness.. What an odd time for this book to show up in my mail box. Just the night before I had turned off the news in disgust; I was tired of listening to bad things in the world. I even suggested that we need a new network-- GNN, Good News Network. How do you define happiness? Eric Weiner is a self-declared grump. As a foreign correspondent, Weiner has traveled the world. Most of the stories he has covered were rather depressing. In his search for a definition of happiness, he traveled the world to 10 different countries. Happiness is different things to different people. The reader has the privilege of tagging along on as Weiner takes the reader with him on his quest for the Holy Gail, happiness. The Geography of Bliss will bring a smile to your face and maybe give you a different perspective on true happiness.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing read! I had to read a free choice book for geography and this book was perfect. It was interesting, humorous, and informational all at the same time! Definitely recommend to anyone who loves traveling and wants to find out the true meaning of happiness.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
DoranneLongPTMS More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and traveling vicariously around the world. I learned, I enjoyed, I trust the tidbits shared about each country, as one who has traveled, and has friends who recently have been to Bhutan and shared similar experiences. The book is now dog-eared with turned down corners noting the wisdom shared about our purpose on earth, and how important is it to seek happiness, or maybe love? As I physical therapist, I really appreciated, and agree with, the value of helping others. That to me, is happiness.
ChasingAmber More than 1 year ago
I've been on the road for a year now traveling through Europe, the Middle East and now am in Asia with plans to return to the States in February. I've been to most of the countries discussed in the book and loved every bit of it. Great read! Weiner is a thoughtful and hilarious writer. He's provided some excellent insight in Bliss and also so valuable life lessons. 
amvarg24 More than 1 year ago
I came across this book while perusing the recommended reads table in Barnes & Noble. I wasn't quite sure if I was going to like it. I tend to be much more of a Fiction reader, but this book is a real life account of the author's journey to find happiness. The author, Eric Weiner, is a former reporter for the New York Times, so the book has a journalistic tone. As soon as I began reading the book I fell in love with it. It is absolutely a fantastic read. It perfectly blends humor and philosophy as Weiner explores 10 different countries all over the world. During his journey he attempts to find why exactly some countries are happier than others. Of course, because the book is written solely on his observations, there may be points made in the book that may offend or surprise the reader. But as long as the reader keeps in mind that these are his thoughts, the reader can learn a lot from Weiner. Weiner takes the reader along with him on his journey. It is easy to feel what he felt, and see what he saw. The many philosophical points that the author makes throughout the book made me rethink my outlook on life, and specifically my outlook on the concept of happiness. Even though the author clearly portrays some of the countries in a more positive light, he does a great job of encompassing all facets of his experiences in each of the countries. I highly recommend this book to any type of reader. It’s a quick read, mostly because it fully engages and captures the reader.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Funny, thought provoking and intelligent. I was sad to put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Part motivational, part travel, and healthy dose of irreverance. Through this informal and highly entertaining work, i learned how happiness is found boh internally and in an external cultural context.
Wide_RIght More than 1 year ago
Just a well though out book, that takes the author to various countries in trying to understand what makes people, happy or at least, content. A fine read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An honest and entertaining accout.
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