cover image The Geography of Bliss

The Geography of Bliss

Eric Weiner, . . Hachette/Twelve, $25.99 (329pp) ISBN 978-0-446-58026-7

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. (Jan.)