Monday, February 8, 2010

The Geography of Bliss

Guest Recommendation by Julie P.

The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner is a man's search around the world to define happiness and discover the cause. He visits some "happy" countries (Netherlands, Bhutan, Qatar, Thailand) and an absolutely miserable country, Moldova.

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.

My question is how does he pick the countries in the first place? Obviously, right now at least, the U.S. isn't one of the happiest countries because of jobloss and the economy. And we work ourselves into the ground anyway. But why Iceland, etc? If I were picking countries, I'd pick the Netherlands (cause they're having sex and smoking pot there legally) and New Zealand (cause it's off by itself, not in any wars, and has big grassy hills for movies like the Lord of the Rings).

What countries would you pick as being "happy countries"?

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