three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
33-Mar-Apr-2008
By: 
Eric Weiner
user_rating: 
0

One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World

A-The Geography of BlissIf you’ve always been skeptical that Disneyland really is "the happiest place on Earth," The Geography of Bliss may be the book for you. Weiner, who has spent most of his career as a peripatetic NPR correspondent, constructed an itinerary based on national rankings of subjective well-being from the World Database of Happiness. He visits several of the happiest places (Switzerland, Thailand, Iceland, and Bhutan, whose monarch has made Gross National Happiness a priority), a few of the more miserable places (Moldova and wealthy-but-weary Qatar), and several that just interest him (Great Britain, India, and Asheville, North Carolina—supposedly one of the happiest cities in America). Weiner illuminates these alternately cheery and dreary locales with data from the ever-expanding science of happiness, his personal observations, and interviews with the glum and glad alike.
Twelve. 352 pages. $25.99. ISBN: 0446580260

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"[Weiner] doesn’t really have a lot of concrete answers about happiness beyond the obvious ones of family and friends, but what he experiences and observes makes wonderful reading. There’s something interesting on every page of this wise and witty book, and it will make you happy just reading it." Elizabeth Bennett

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Weiner does more than report on the lifestyles of the delighted and despondent. … The real focus of his story is on the people he meets in cafes and on buses, the people who rent him rooms and give him directions, the people whose conversations, confessions and silences reveal the deep truths about their lands and lives." Daniel Gilbert

Denver Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Although timid at emotional exploration and riddled with blind-spots, Weiner’s writing holds your interest, even as he annoys you. He may remind some readers of the kind of guy you go on a date with, and you know the entire evening he is not the one and you probably aren’t going to go home with him, but somehow you still don’t want the evening to end." Elaine Margolin

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"Universals are uncovered, none of which are earth-shattering. Family: good. A sense of community: good. Sense of humor: also good. … Never mind that different people are happy for different reasons; the darkness and coziness beloved by many Icelanders might be hell for a Californian, and the lack of thinking that Weiner uses to summarize Thailand’s bliss would spell misery for someone who revels in discussing existentialism." Karla Starr

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"According to a recent study, Denmark’s key to happiness is lowered expectations. With that in mind, readers will find pleasure, however fleeting, in these pages." Pamela Paul

Critical Summary

If there’s one truth that emerged from reviewers’ various takes on The Geography of Bliss, it’s that happiness is subjective. Every critic seemed to find something that really irked him or her about this book: Weiner’s persona seems affected, he indulges in "psychobabble," he remains aloof about himself, he comes across as an obnoxious reporter. Yet everyone seemed to enjoy his book, admiring Weiner’s original approach to the subject, his balance of research and experience, and the characters that illustrate the lessons on happiness Weiner accumulates during his journeys. In short, all the critics’ happiness was alike, but they were also all unhappy in their own way. (Sorry, Tolstoy.) FYI: Weiner lives in Miami, Florida.

Supplemental Reading

Happiness | Richard Layard (2005): 3.5 of 5 Stars May/June 2005 Based on years of research, including that of groundbreaking happiness expert and Nobel laureate Daniel Hahneman, Happiness reveals how societal pressures to make money, compete, and accrue possessions take a heavy toll on overall happiness.

Happiness | Darrin M. McMahon (2006): 3.5 of 5 Stars May/June 2006: From the ancient Greco-Roman religions to Judaism and Christianity to the Enlightenment to the present day, McMahon consults great Western thinkers and presents an overview of the meanings of happiness over time.