Hot on the heels of recent academic studies of the world?s happiest places, former NPR correspondent Eric Weiner set out on a global road trip to find out for himself what makes a place ? and a people ? happy or unhappy.
?The Geography of Bliss? is the thought-provoking and laugh-out-loud funny result of his personal happiness adventure.
When I?d heard the result of one of these happiness research studies ? that Denmark is the happiest place on Earth ? that made a certain amount of sense to me. I?d visited Denmark, have friends who live there, and respect and even admire some of their more important governmental policies. Truth be told, I?d whimsically imagined living there myself, and I?ve often thought that the ideal place to raise a child would be in a Scandinavian country.
But truly the absolute happiest place on Earth? How can you measure something that by its very nature seems so intrinsically subjective? I jumped at the chance to read Weiner?s book, just as soon as I could get my hands on it from the library.
In his own quest to figure out how to quantify happiness, Weiner visits The Netherlands ? home to the World Database of Happiness, dedicated to the study of happiness ? Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, Moldova, Thailand, Great Britain and India before taking a quick look at his home country, the United States.
I had been thinking just this morning about how Americans for the most part still hear the sirens? cry of our pioneer ancestry. We?re mobile people, much more so than folks in most other countries, and we aren?t as personally and stubbornly attached to specific geography. It?s not unreasonable, in this country, to move someplace else in search of your bliss. Sure, there?s the occasional turf war here, but it?s nothing like the centuries? old conflicts still raging today in other parts of the globe. For the most part, we?re just not as deeply rooted in geography.
Finding Weiner coming to much this same conclusion at the close of his book felt both validating and comforting. Several years back, I?d left my Virginian roots to head West in search of my own bliss. While I?ve found room to grow and explore and even blossom in my new home, I?ve recently started feeling that American restlessness again ? the ?grass is always greener? syndrome? ? and had quietly started fantasizing about uprooting once again and hitting the road in search of the next iteration of personal happiness.
Sometimes literally changing your surroundings brings that shift in perspective that can be necessary for personal breakthrough, or for deeper appreciation and understanding of your individual place in the world. I believe that?s what Weiner found to be true along his journeys. For me, as tempting as it is, I doubt I need the physical jump to stimulate or symbolize my inner growth. And when I?m feeling restless, I can always take a road trip of a more temporary variety, perhaps head out to find what makes other people happy where they are.
I?ve spoken with several friends about this book while I was reading it, and most have asked the same question: ?What have you learned??
I?ve learned, not so surprisingly, that different things make different people happy. That money doesn?t buy happiness ? in the case of Qatar, sitting complacently atop the global oil lottery ? and lack of money doesn?t necessarily mean the lack of happiness. It?s relationships and communities that matter.
Most of this is rather intuitive, but it still sometimes takes hard evidence ? or at least experiential evidence ? to make it ring true. Traveling the world with Weiner through his words offers personal and thoughtful perspective on the rather elusive and difficult study of happiness, and I?m left with a stronger belief that people are generally about as happy as they make up their minds to be (and to pursue).
I also, rather surprisingly, learned that I might not be a bad fit for Iceland, and that there is at least one person in the world whose addiction to functional bags is quite a bit worse than my own.