Enjoy this with a good cup fo coffee. Mar 19, 2009
The NPR correspondent goes around the world, travelling to the places considered the happiest to discover their collective secrets. We often relate our happiness to our geography, and he seeks to find out if this has any truth to it. "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."
He travels to the Netherlands where happiness is being researched scientifically, to Switzerland where shear boredom and cleanliness seems to be the answer to the world's purported happiest people, to Bhutan where happiness is a government goal and mandate. In Qatar he finds folks who think money can buy anything, including happiness, to Iceland - the happiness of failure, and in Thailand where happiness is just plain not thinking about it. In Moldova he finds the concept that happiness is always somewhere else, and in the US where it is in the place you consider home.
I laughed outloud three times while reading just the opening page. Weiner's descriptions are so good, I was brought back to the places I've been, and felt a huge since of desire for the places I haven't seen yet. Except for Moldova. Moldova is the one place he visited that isn't happy. They are described as the unhappiest people in the world. Their reasoning is that they don't have enough money. But as Weiner viewed in Bhutan, money isn't as important as a strong sense of culture and belonging. 90% of Bhutanese that have a chance to study in the US or Britain return to their home country, even though there is virtually no economy there. (To which an American tourist commented, "well, why would they do that.") The real reason Weiner encounters for unhappiness is a lack of trust and true friendships, two qualities that are belittled as weakness in Moldova.
Overall, I just found this to be an intensely enjoyable book.