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The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World    by Eric Weiner order for
Geography of Bliss
by Eric Weiner
Order:  USA  Can
Twelve, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Journalists write great travel books (think Bill Bryson) and this is certainly the case with Eric Weiner and The Geography of Bliss. The author spent a year seeking out '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.' In his book he shares 'One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World' with perceptive - often quirky - observations and a wry sense of humor.

Each chapter takes us to a different country, the contents summarized by a tag, from 'The Netherlands: Happiness is a Number' to 'America: Happiness is Home'. For Thailand, it's 'Happiness is Not Thinking' (mai pen lai = never mind) and I rather like Moldovia's 'Happiness is Somewhere Else', though it certainly doesn't prompt me to pack a bag in a hurry! Other countries in which the holy grail of happiness was sought were Switzerland, Qatar, Iceland, Great Britain, and India - and the happiness found came in many cultural varieties, and seemingly based on different cultural attributes.

Weiner began by investigating a World Database of Happiness in the Netherlands (there actually is a science of happiness!) Happiness researchers measure its levels around the world, and identify classes of people who are more or less happy than others (not surprisingly optimists are happier than pessimists, but why are people happier in temperate climates than in the tropics?) In the Netherlands, the author goes on to sample Dutch tolerance, looking for happiness in hedonism. In Switzerland, he glimpses it in a connection to nature, direct democracy, and trust. Bhutan has a policy of Gross National Happiness, and believes that 'happiness is relational.' Qatar's vast oilngas wealth makes its people extremely well off, but not necessarily happy - just as 'the United States is not as happy as it is wealthy.' And Iceland is full of creative energy, tolerates failure and eccentricity - and is a pretty happy place.

In his Epilogue (Are We There Yet?), Eric Weiner says this about happiness after his year's quest: '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.' And as leading happiness researcher John Helliwell tells him, 'There's more than one path to happiness.' Having observed the contentment on people's faces in places like Bhutan and Thailand myself, I've often wondered what makes a happy life. I very much enjoyed Eric Weiner's search for answers and highly recommend his Geography of Bliss to happiness seekers and armchair travelers alike.

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