Cindergirl3, September 18, 2009 (view all comments by Cindergirl3)
I enjoyed the ride of this book more for the travel aspect than the personal discovery. The bits of happiness research and the comparisons of each different culture were very educational and entertaining.
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wescoat, November 5, 2008 (view all comments by wescoat)
Despite the fact Weiner (pronounced, "Why-ner," natch) writes prose that's about as sophisticated and artful as a nine-year-old's, he did have share some interesting things to say about happiness. Geography is essentially a travel book. Each chapter follows Weiner to a different country as he galavants about looking for "happy" places. He goes to Bhutan, Iceland, Switzerland, India, Thailand, and a few more, and finds varying degrees of happiness at each. I thought he did a good job of covering a diverse swath of places, and his depictions of some of the places I'd never even consider visiting were quite interesting. Qatar, for instance. Who would ever think to go to Qatar? But we forget that, thanks to its oil, it's one of the richest countries in the world. It's so rich, in fact, its government basically gives away free money to all citizens. It is a relatively new country that has come into its wealth relatively recently in world history, creating a sort of culture vacuum in which glittering buildings were erected and roads were paved with gold before any real culture had time to set in. The result is like a giant, really nice strip mall, populated by assholes in luxury automobiles who treat Starbucks baristas like their own personal slaves. Also, Weiner goes to Moldova, a neighbor of Russia that is, according to many "happiness indexes" and other bullshit studies and think tanks, one of the world's UN-happiest places. It pretty much lives up to its reputation, which makes for a pretty interesting chapter, since it is always fascinating to read about other peoples' misery.
So Weiner does a good job of sort of summing up the feel of most of his destinations, and of articulating the things that makes each one mostly happy or mostly not happy. America, for instance, is surprisingly low in the happiness index, because we have developed this incredible expectation regarding our own happiness. We expect large and constant amounts of happiness, and when we don't get it, our unhappiness is exacerbated by the fact that we feel entitled to it. Other, less-expectational countries, like India and Thailand, think we're crazy.
However, while Weiner's book is mostly entertaining, it also feels a little vapid. This is in part thanks to Weiner's simplistic writing style, and it is also in part thanks to the fact he only gives ONE, pretty brief chapter to each place. On his website he claims he spent two years researching this book, and yet each chapter feels like he stayed about three days in whatever the destination is, then inflated his truncated experiences into something meaningful. Bliss is ultimately pretty shallow, and Weiner's endless attempts at wisecracking are at best worthy of a mild chuckle, and at worst make him seem like an incurious, insensitive douchebag. He calls himself a "grump" in the book's title, but offers nothing about his life that might demonstrate such a claim. A correspondent for NPR, with a loving wife, a daughter, and a great career, it's hard to imagine him as unhappy, and he does little to convince us otherwise. He's a good reporter but not much of a writer.
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Bridget Colontonio, February 20, 2008 (view all comments by Bridget Colontonio)
Eric Weiner wrote this book to make us happier, and he succeeded. A self-described “mope”, he embarks on a journey to find some of the world’s happiest places, and perhaps more importantly, to find out why they are so happy. A longtime foreign correspondent for National Public Radio, he has seen and reported his share of adversities and misfortunes. But now he wants to explore the flip side of all this misery.
His quest begins in The Netherlands, at a place called, the World Database of Happiness located in Rotterdam. Here, he learns many trivial facts about happiness, but he doesn’t get any closer to the answer to his burning question, who and where are the happiest people and why? From here, he heads out to nine different countries in search of the answer. Along the way, he meets a variety of interesting, unforgettable, and yes, happy people. From each of them he takes away what happiness (and unhappiness) means to them despite their global positioning. Upon his return to America, he recalls the many anecdotes told to him about what makes a person or a place happy, and he comes to a certain conclusion, and possibly, the answer to his burning question.
Eric Weiner has revealed to us that happiness can be measured in many different ways in several different countries by religion, culture, and even politics. And we’re all in search of happiness, yet we tend to forget that it sometimes comes with a price, perhaps not always monetarily, yet an expense nonetheless. So was it worth the search? Find out by reading The Geography of Bliss and you decide wherein happiness lies.
Also, if you read this witty, insightful book, you must visit the author’s website at www.ericweinerbooks.com. Here you will be able to enjoy a slideshow of the photos of Eric’s incredible journey in the search for happiness.
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Eric Weiner takes an entertaining romp around the world in search of geographical happiness, and I was willingly taken along for the ride. His self-professed Eeyore-centric take on the world and his grumpy wit made his discourse all the more fun. Highly recommended.
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"Fortified with Eeyoreish fatalism — 'I'm already unhappy. I have nothing to lose' — Weiner set out on a yearlong quest to find the world's 'unheralded happy places.' Having worked for years as an NPR foreign correspondent, he'd gone to many obscure spots, but usually to report bad news or terrible tragedies. Now he'd travel to countries like Iceland, Bhutan, Qatar, Holland, Switzerland, Thailand and India to try to figure out why residents tell 'positive psychology' researchers that they're actually quite happy. At his first stop, Rotterdam's World Database of Happiness, Weiner is confronted with a few inconvenient truths. Contrary to expectations, neither greater social equality nor greater cultural diversity is associated with greater happiness. Iceland and Denmark are very homogeneous, but very happy; Qatar is extremely wealthy, but Weiner, at least, found it rather depressing. He wasn't too fond of the Swiss, either, uncomfortable with their 'quiet satisfaction, tinged with just a trace of smugness.' In the end, he realized happiness isn't about economics or geography. Maybe it's not even personal so much as 'relational.' In the end, Weiner's travel tales — eating rotten shark meat in Iceland, smoking hashish in Rotterdam, trying to meditate at an Indian ashram — provide great happiness for his readers." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day"
by Daniel Gilbert, Washington Post Book World,
"From the Persian Gulf to the Arctic Circle, Weiner discovers that happiness blooms where we least expect it. Who knew that the long, dark Icelandic winter gives rise to a magical, communal culture that has done away with envy and sobriety? Or that the Thais so prize "fun" that their government has created a Gross Domestic Happiness Index...? Or that Moldovans are miserable...? Or that the wealthy citizens of Qatar lead pampered, joyless lives..." (read the entire Washington Post Book World review)
by Kirkus Reviews,
"Part travelogue, part personal-discovery memoir and all sustained delight, this wise, witty ramble reads like Paul Theroux channeling David Sedaris on a particularly good day...Fresh and beguiling."
by School Library Journal,
"Weiner's travel tales — eating rotten shark meat in Iceland, smoking hashish in Rotterdam, trying to meditate at an Indian ashram — provide great happiness for his readers."
"Laugh. Think. Repeat. Repeatedly. If someone told me this book was this good, I wouldn't have believed them."
--Po Bronson, author of What Should I Do With My Life?
"Think Don Quixote with a dark sense of humor and a taste for hashish and you begin to grasp Eric Weiner, the modern knight-errant of this mad, sad, wise, and witty quest across four continents. I won't spoil the fun by telling if his mission succeeds, except to say that happiness is reading a book as entertaining as this."
--Tony Horwitz, author of Confederates in the Attic
Part foreign affairs discourse, part humor, and part twisted self-help guide, The Geography of Bliss takes the listener 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 Qatar, awash in petrodollars, find joy in all that cash? 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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