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The Geography of Bliss December 1, 2012

Posted by nrhatch in Books & Movies, Happiness, People.

Mickey-LoungingIf you’re looking for Nirvana, Utopia, Paradise in your pursuit of happiness, you won’t find it between the covers of The Geography of Bliss ~ One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World.

Instead, if you follow my recommendation as I did Andra’s, you will join Eric Weiner (pronounced “whiner”) as he visits 9 countries on a global quest to learn what makes some places happier than others.

The countries visited?  The Netherlands, Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland,  Moldova, Thailand, Great Britain, and India.

In Switzerland, consuming chocolate adds to the net happiness ~ as do the clean toilets.  In Moldova, everything but the fresh fruits and vegetables adds to the populace’s misery.

grumpy_thinkingMoldovans are a decidedly unhappy people.  An unhappiness that is readily absorbed by Peace Corps volunteers and other visitors, including the author.  He couldn’t wait to leave.

If you have “Visit Moldova” on your Bucket List, you might want to cross it off.

In the Epilogue, Weiner, a self-proclaimed mope, sums up his findings without attempting to proscribe  THE exact precise one-size-fits-all formula for happiness:

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.

To venture any further, though, is to enter treacherous waters.  A slippery seal, happiness is.  On the road, I encountered bushels of inconsistencies.  The Swiss are uptight and happy.  The Thais are laid back and happy.  Icelanders find joy in their binge drinking.  Moldovans only misery. 

Maybe an Indian mind can digest these contradictions but mine can’t.  Exasperated, I call one of the leading happiness researchers, John Helliwell.  Perhaps he has some answers.

“It’s simple,” he says.  “There’s more than one path to happiness.”

Of course.  How could I have missed it?  Tolstoy turned on his head.  All miserable countries are alike; happy ones are happy in their own ways.

One destination, many paths.  Makes sense.  After all, life is not a game of Follow the Leader or Monkey See, Monkey Do.

In the last chapter, Weiner returns home to the United States ~ wiser, more content perhaps, but not necessarily happier:

Have I found happiness? . . . I do experience happy moments.  I’m learning, as W.H. Auden counseled, to “dance while you can.”

Woodstock-&-Snoopy2Exactly the right approach to the pursuit of happiness.  We can only live happily ever after on a moment by moment basis.

On with the dance!  Let joy be unconfined.  ~ Lord Byron.

Aah . . . that’s better!


1. Andra Watkins - December 1, 2012

I’m glad you enjoyed the book, Nancy.

nrhatch - December 1, 2012

I enjoyed it quite a bit. Thanks so much!

None of the places made me want to pack my bags and abandon the “pursuit of happiness” in my own backyard . . . but I found his observations about the locations he visited fascinating.

And his writing made me chuckle on more than a few occasions.

2. Barbara Backer-Gray - December 1, 2012

Moldova. Okay. It wasn’t on my bucket list but now I do want to know more about it. Nice post.

nrhatch - December 1, 2012

Thanks, Barbara. One of my college roommates served in the Peace Corps at the relatively advanced age of 40. She was assigned to Moldova ~ I had to ask her where it was located. It is a country without identity or history, one which most people cannot find on a map.

Which is just as well . . . after reading this book, I’m convinced it is a dismal place. Best avoided. 😉

Barbara Backer-Gray - December 1, 2012

I can find it on the map, but I’ve never ever heard anything about it one way or the other. No news, no interesting tidbits, nothing. I’m going to google it right now.

Barbara Backer-Gray - December 1, 2012

Okay, I read the entire Wikipedia main article. The only thing that struck me was that it has the highest alcoholic consumption in the world. Yeah, that right there tells you something.

Barbara Backer-Gray - December 1, 2012

Their Eurovision Song Festival entry of 2011 looks funny.

nrhatch - December 1, 2012

Moldovans are like dogs who have been shocked without a way to escape. Even after an avenue of escape opens up, they just sit there. Resigned to fate.

And while they wait, they drink.

nrhatch - December 1, 2012

I just watched the video . . . those cone heads are something. 😆

3. Tom (Aquatom1968) - December 1, 2012

I’m sure that if all of the Moldovans are unhappy, some of them are bound to be happy in their unhappiness… they must be. I’m fascinated by different cultures, Nancy, although I don’t know a lot about them. To me, happiness is an individual quality… however, I think I’ll look out for this book! I’ve always wanted to go to Iceland, but never had the people down as big drinkers. You learn as you go along, don’t you! 🙂

nrhatch - December 1, 2012

Given your fascination with different cultures, I predict that you would LOVE this book . . . because our happiness is so interwoven with other aspects of life and culture.

Iceland, despite its darkness, is a creative and happy place. The drinking is seen as a way to get through the cold dark winters . . . AND to celebrate the bright brief sunny summers.

nrhatch - December 1, 2012

Weiner would agree with you . . . sometimes unhappiness stems from the happiness we find in despair.

As odd as that sounds.

4. seeker57 - December 1, 2012

My bucket list as suggested by you has grown. Oh my, this is just too much fun and I am feeling giddy and happy. I wonder what the rate of happiness for habitants of the Philippines. That’s where I came from. Dancing is good for happiness as you see on this clip:

Here is a very uplifting video http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap120710.html

nrhatch - December 1, 2012

Great video, Seeker. I love the “Where is Matt?” dancing phenomenon. It never fails to make me smile.

The folks in the Phillippines looked happy . . . as they danced. 😀

5. diannegray - December 1, 2012

I agree with the Swiss for their chocolate happiness 😉

This sounds like a really interesting book, Nancy – but I won’t be visiting Moldova in the near future…

nrhatch - December 1, 2012

Even reading about Moldova and its sad disheartened citizens caused my happiness level to drop . . . in contrast, reading about Thailand’s smiling denizens caused it to rise.

Reading about Swiss chocolate also made me S~M~I~L~E . . . until I realized that I didn’t have any on hand.

6. Crowing Crone Joss - December 1, 2012

Dance while you can – always good advice, I say.

nrhatch - December 1, 2012

Indeed. Dance . . . laugh . . . sing . . . and play! 😀

7. jannatwrites - December 1, 2012

I can see how chocolate raises happiness (at least until you hop on the scale :)) Happiness has more to do with what’s inside (how we see things) than the actual circumstances themselves.

nrhatch - December 2, 2012

True. But how we see things tends to flow from customs learned from those around us ~ if we are born into a village of pessimists, that trait can be hard to break later in life.

Unless we have access to other villages, cultures, customs, and better happiness habits through travel, books, movies, TV, and blogs. 😀

8. Three Well Beings - December 2, 2012

My friend’s new daughter-in-law comes from Moldava! I will have to ask some questions! This sounds like an interesting book. I can’t seem to recall the name of a documentary I recently saw that asked people around the world to upload to youtube short personal videos answering questions related to what made them happy. But I was so moved by the simplicity in some responses versus the materialistic needs of others. I’m always interested in learning how others define happiness. I would enjoy reading this book, I’m sure. I’m so glad you shared it!

nrhatch - December 2, 2012

I would love to know what your friend’s new daughter-in-law has to say about Moldova and its happiness levels.

According to the researchers at The Happiness Institute (discussed in the book), Moldova is the bottom of the barrel when it comes to happiness. No one is happy . . . they are resigned. The catch-phrase when something goes wrong, “Well, that’s Moldova.”

Of course, the author only spent a few weeks in the country, focused on two places. Maybe people in other areas are happier . . . or at least not so morose?

Three Well Beings - December 2, 2012

I will ask her what she thinks of this study! It’s an interesting conversation!

nrhatch - December 3, 2012

What a fun conversation to have with anyone who’s moved here from elsewhere ~ why did you leave, what do you miss most, do you want to return home, do you think people are happier here or there, etc.?

Please let us know what she says about Moldovan happiness.

Karen J - December 2, 2012

Where is Moldova, in relation to Poland?
I ask because so so many of the Polish folk in Chicago seem to be morose-on-the-street… visibly crabby and unhappy. Broad brush, I know, but their neighborhoods just aren’t ‘vibrant’ at all… and nobody smiles…

nrhatch - December 3, 2012

They’re in the same general vicinity but they don’t butt up against each other. Your broad brush description matches that of Weiner’s broad brush description of Moldovans. Generalizations won’t apply to everyone in the community equally, but they do give us a sense of the flavor of communities and neighborhoods.

9. sufilight - December 2, 2012

I love culture so this book sounds fascinating! My nephew teaches and lives in Thailand and is married to a Thai woman. When they stayed in New York for a year she was very unhappy, in culture shock. I don’t think he plans to live in the USA anytime soon as life is good for him in Thailand with the beaches and friendly people.

nrhatch - December 2, 2012

Thailand sounds like a wonderful place to be . . . with people who enjoy work and play and have FUN at both. Friendly folks with beautiful smiles.

According to Weiner, they don’t take life too seriously ~ if someone is clumsy and slips, trips, or falls . . . everyone laughs while offering assistance, if necessary. They don’t pretend not to have seen the mishap.

They are not so caught up in self-image or protecting fragile Egos . . . Overweight? Expect to be called “Hippo” or “Ellie.” Late? Expect to be teased for being a “Tortoise.” Etc.

10. sweetdaysundertheoaks - December 2, 2012

Dang! I am one of those excessive thinkers BUT I am learning and doing the moment to moment happiness cause those moments surprise me and add up to a day.. 🙂

nrhatch - December 2, 2012

Same here, Pix. There is a definite benefit to not thinking, categorizing, labeling, and judging our experiences . . . instead, just experience them and allow bliss, joy, and happiness to surface of their own accord.

sweetdaysundertheoaks - December 2, 2012

Exactly, I don’t need to do all that over thinking anymore. It does no good!

11. Barb - December 2, 2012

I once thought I’d be happy if I lived in Hawaii or some island of paradise, but you know, I think I’d get blase’ about great weather, wonderful sunshine everyday. For me, it’s the bits of of unhappiness or stress, or fly in the soup that makes me realize there are happier times and sadder catastrophes. Great to think about though. Thanks

nrhatch - December 3, 2012

Thanks, Barb. Moving to Florida has increased my overall sense of well-being . . . without eliminating all the “soup flies.” Cold weather and gray skies sapped my energy levels and zapped my happiness for 4-6 months each year when we lived up north. My life is not “pain free” (in fact, 2012 has been a doozy of a year), but being able to recharge my batteries in the sun helps immensely.

For me, beaches and sunshine are key components. For others, it’s mountains that recharge them . . . or the change of seasons . . . or big piles of snow to shovel.

12. viviankirkfield - December 2, 2012

Thanks, Nancy…the book sounds like an interesting read! As to happiness…it’s my feeling that happiness comes from within…and it doesn’t matter if you are in Moldova or Switzerland or Iceland or the USA. 🙂 One can be surrounded by the most wonderful of sights and sounds and still be miserable. And, conversely, one can be in the middle of a pretty bad situation…and still find happiness. For me, I choose happiness. 😉

nrhatch - December 3, 2012

Happiness does come from within. It is a product of the thoughts we think . . . we do not laugh because we are happy, we are happy because we laugh.

That said, it’s easier to think happy thoughts when we are surrounded by a culture of happiness. When we have been socialized from birth to “pursue happiness.” Happiness is a product of both nature and nurture.

13. Perfecting Motherhood - December 4, 2012

I’ve heard about that book, probably on NPR. Seems like an interesting topic for sure. That’s the type of trip I’d like to take, something with a “fun” purpose.

nrhatch - December 4, 2012

I expect that you would enjoy this book, Milka. I hope he does a sequel with another 10 countries. 😀

Perfecting Motherhood - December 4, 2012

I’ll put it on my to-read list then, thanks!

nrhatch - December 4, 2012

Hope you enjoy. I liked it MUCH BETTER than I expected. Just enjoyed his “way with words.”

Perfecting Motherhood - December 4, 2012

I just stumbled upon this BBC article. You may find it interesting since it deals with the happiness factor.

nrhatch - December 4, 2012

Interesting article, Milka. If I follow the statistical curve . . . it means that I’ve passed the LOW POINT on the happiness scale and now will grow happier with each passing year. YAY! 😀

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