Where are the happiest places in the world? One grumpy dude goes on a hilarious, worldwide pursuit and what he discovers might surprise you.
“The pursuit of happiness” is more than just a line in the United States’ constitution. It’s a universal human pursuit. People want to be happy. Not only do we pursue happiness in people, things, and experiences, we also pursue happiness in places. Most of us imagine a Shangri-La where we can live out our days with bliss. But does such a place exist?
Eric Weiner seeks to answer that question. The former foreign correspondent for National Public Radio has traveled and written about places, though usually in a news context. In other words, he’s been on the pursuit of problems. Now he narrates his humorous and enlightening pursuit of happy places in “The Geography of Bliss: One Grumps Search For the Happiest Places in the World.”
The self-proclaimed grump explores a world of happiness through the lenses of psychology, culture, politics and obviously geography:
“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, and 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 rich 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 that you voted seven times a year? What if you lived in a country where excessive thinking is discouraged? Would you be happy then?”
As a traveler, I admit that finding happiness was what pushed me to sell my stuff, leave the United States and walk across Spain in search of answers. And I know a lot of other travelers with similar stories.
We’re not only navigating a physical landscape, but also a cultural landscape. “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,” says Weiner. We can only define happiness based on our culture. This is one reason I found his book enlightening. It teaches about what happiness is in terms of the human condition, not the “American Dream.”
Weiner visits the Netherlands to dig through mountains of research on “subjective well-being” (the fancy term for happiness, he learns) at the World Database of Happiness. He explores questions like “is pleasure the same as happiness?” He certainly finds some answers. Across the street he learns a lesson in the happiness (or pleasure) of Moroccan hash at a “coffee shop.” Having lived in in the red-light district in Amsterdam, I know a thing or two about that.
In Bhutan the grump explores public policy based not on measuring and expanding Gross Domestic Product (economic “success” of a nation) but Gross National Happiness. It’s just what it sounds: how happy the citizens of the country are, not how much stuff and money they can accumulate. Which matters more to you?
He also visits Switzerland, Qatar, Iceland, Thailand, Great Britain, India and finally, the United States. Each chapter explores a different culture’s insight on the relationship between happiness and being a human living a life out on planet Earth. He even visits the unhappiest country in the world to find out what makes people unhappy. All the while, he makes connections—or lack thereof—between happiness and things like money, democracy, temperature and relationships.
Some of the countries Weiner visited rank high on scales of global happiness. Other countries involved in the pursuit aren’t happy, but seem like they should be. A paradox. The Geography of Bliss not only invites us to explore the secrets to happiness around the world, it invites us to see for ourselves.
Having studied psychology before traveling the world on my own pursuit of happiness, I found the book to be honest and thorough, as well as entertaining.
What the grump uncovers may challenge how you think of happiness. It may help you refine your definition of happiness. You may be inspired to travel or at the very least, be more enlightened and better prepared for your ongoing pursuit of happiness wherever you are.
It’s about travel and happiness—a definite winner for us at Inspiration Travels.