Where is Happy?

Between Christmas and New Year’s I read a 2008 nonfiction book called The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner. Somewhat unfortunately titled, Weiner describes his visits to ten countries searching for the secrets to individual and community happiness. A foreign correspondent for NPR, he writes in a snappy, ironic, deprecating style, and had a research assistant who ploughed through mountains of happiness research, both scientific and philosophical, which he layers in at all the right places as he describes his travels.

Weiner began his journeys at Erasmus University’s World Database of Happiness in Rotterdam, which holds almost 12,000 studies related to happiness, of which about half contain enough empirical data to be considered scientifically tight enough to be included in their finding archive. The Netherlands is always high on all happiness indices, so Weiner conveniently began there. Needless to say, prostitution and drugs are part of the Dutch happiness story—not prostitution and drugs themselves, but the Dutch attitude toward them. From there, he went to Switzerland, then Bhutan and Iceland—countries very different from each other, but all of which rank high in happiness studies. He also visited countries with low happiness indices (but not for the obvious reasons of being desperately poor and/or war-torn), trying to understand what made them so.

I won’t spoil the fun by naming all the countries, nor reveal his conclusions about human happiness in general. It’s one of those things you probably have some accurate ideas about already, but it was a pleasure (it made me happy J) to see it described more articulately and entertainingly than I’d been able to do myself before reading the book.

The book also includes some interesting asides and caveats that might get you thinking and traveling in new directions yourself. For instance, the photo above is one I took on a trip to Bhutan recently. But that’s another story.

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