By September 17, 2008 0 Comments Read More →

Happy Trails for You

The Geography of BlissWhy are the people who live in some places happier than those who live elsewhere? How far would you go to find out? Those are the questions at the heart of NPR correspondent Eric Weiner’s entertaining book, The Geography of Bliss.

A curmudgeon and world traveler, Weiner spent a year in search of elusive happiness. He begins in Rotterdam, with a researcher who has compiled the World Database of Happiness, a set of statistics that indicates where people are happy and where they are not. Tossing out places where the reasons for misery are most obvious, Weiner plots a year of visits to happy and unhappy countries to try to understand the differences.

Weiner’s methods are far from scientific: Most of his “research” comes from lightly-planned encounters with the locals, often in bars and restaurants, but the insights he draws from his travels are still interesting, and more important, funny. He draws conclusions quickly–Moldovans are gloomy; the Swiss are smug; Qataris, despite their wealth, are unhappy–but he illustrates his stereotyping with details that are entertaining and is quick to poke fun at his own foibles. Whether he’s doing “research” with legalized hashish in the Netherlands, tasting rotten shark in Iceland, goggling at phallic statues in Bhutan, receiving offers of “inter course” from a waiter, or floundering through meditation sessions in an Indian ashram, Weiner knows how to make you laugh at his own minor miseries. Even his visit to gloomy Moldova, where Weiner spends most of his time closed in a small apartment with a woman who pronounces almost everything to be “feevty-feevty” and where his contacts can only find optimism about the freshness of the fruits and vegetables, makes for entertaining reading.

Any book group should enjoy re-capping their favorite stories, debating Weiner’s conclusions about happiness, and comparing his travel experiences with their own. If this book works well for you, consider going further with more ornery travel writers such as Bill Bryson, Calvin Trillin, Paul Theroux, or Anthony Bourdain. Or pair this title with one of many entertaining books that further explore happiness research: Darrin M. McMahon’s Happiness: a History, Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness or Sonja Lyubomirsky’s The How of Happiness.

Is it money that makes people happy? Good weather? The size of the country? Illicit substances? Try this trip with Weiner, then draw your own conclusions.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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