What do the Netherlands, Switzerland, Qatar, Iceland, Bhutan, Moldova, Thailand, India, Great Britain, and the United States all have in common? There are places that author Eric Weiner visited in his worldwide quest to determine the roots of true happiness (or in Moldova’s case of unhappiness) as expressed in his terrific book, The Geography of Bliss. It is an insightful, enjoyable, informative, interesting, and often quite funny account that ponders many thought-provoking questions about happiness or the lack thereof.
As an American, the references to trust and tolerance being key ingredients to happiness and democracy (see quotes below) were particularly poignant given the vile and divisive attitudes permeating our nation and particularly Washington, D.C. of late. If trust and tolerance are necessary for both happiness and democracy to take hold, what happens when trust and tolerance evaporate in an existing democracy? Does the democracy evaporate as well? If so, we could be watching many pillars of our society dissolve right before our eyes with each tiresome round of acrimonious contention on the budget, debt ceiling, health care, and the like. Spirited debate is one thing, but underhanded subversion by pompous zealots is an entirely different matter.
Geographers, planners, social scientists, philosophers, psychologists, writers, journalists, demographers, and many other professions will find this book to be a highly useful resource, as Mr. Weiner does an excellent job describing the science of happiness in a very readable format. I highly recommend this book!
Here are a few of the gems from The Geography of Bliss (believe me, I could have listed many, many more):
- “The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness. That’s okay. I’m already unhappy. I have nothing to lose.” (page 4)
- “A nation [The Netherlands] where it seems the adults are out of town and the teenagers are in charge. Not just for the weekend, either. All of the time.” (page 19)
- “Tolerance is great, but tolerance can easily slide into indifference, and that’s no fun at all.” (page 25)
- “Happiness researchers have found that, from a statistical point of view, the Swiss are on to something. Better to live in this middle range that to constantly swing between great highs and terrible lows.” (page 32)
- “Choice translates into happiness only when choice is about something that matters.” (page 45)
- “Maybe we can’t really be happy without first coming to terms with our mortality.” (page 73)
- “Free-market economics has brought much good to the world, but it goes mute when the concept of ‘enough’ is raised.” (page 77)
- “Either way, an important ingredient in the good life, the happy life, is connecting to something larger than ourselves…” (page 110)
- “Sliding around Reykjavik, it doesn’t take long to realize that this is an exceptionally creative place.” (page 154)
- “Fifth-century Athens. Elizabethan London. Renaissance Florence. Late-twentieth-century Seattle. Golden ages never last long. They are fleeting, francium places.” (page 177)
- “…confirmation bias? I expect Moldova to be miserable, so I see misery everywhere.” (page 191)
- “And what are the cultural ingredients for democracy to take root? Trust and tolerance.” (page 198)
- “Not my problem’ is not a philosophy. It’s a mental illness. Right up there with pessimism.” (page 218)
- “This is a country [India] where, as Mark Twain observed, every life is sacred, except human life.” (page 302)
- “Our happiness is completely and utterly intertwined with other people: family and friends and neighbors and the woman you hardly notice who cleans your office. Happiness is not a noun or verb. It’s a conjunction. Connective tissue.” (page 325)