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The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World Hardcover – January 3, 2008

4.3 out of 5 stars 403 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

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.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 329 pages
  • Publisher: Twelve; 1 edition (January 3, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446580260
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446580267
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (403 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #52,711 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
If you're looking for a definitive answer to the book's premise, i.e., that happiness is about place, you might be disappointed. If, however, you are game for a journey about exploring that concept, Eric Weiner's book is for you. At once intelligent and witty, Geography of Bliss takes the reader to unfamiliar places to meet strangely familiar people. That's because the essence of what makes us happy (or unhappy) is basically the same everywhere, alloyed only by our culture and circumstances. It's a book that will make you think and laugh on the same page. And, it might just make you happy.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Author, Eric Weiner, is mired in the bad-news business of journalism. As a correspondent for National Public Radio he has reported from Miami, New Delhi, Jerusalem, Afghanistan, Tokyo, and Iraq. He has covered wars and conflicts. He has won awards for coverage of Islamic issues in Asia and the tobacco industry in the U.S. He has focused on a lot of bad stuff--which often seems the modern definition of news. It is no wonder that he openly cops to being unhappy.

Weiner's quest here is to find a place and conditions that might cheer him up. He apparently considers only slightly the fact that any place he goes, he takes his unhappy self with him. The sub-title, One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World, sets the stage.

Can the conditions of place cause or at least contribute to happiness? My personal experience and letters from readers says yes. I confined my search to the contiguous 48 states; travelholic Weiner takes us to nine more countries.

First to The Netherlands and the World Database of Happiness to learn what Ruut Veenhoven, "the godfather of happiness research" knows. On to Switzerland, where the natives feel more than contentment but less than joy. Thence to Bhutan, where the king has proclaimed Gross National Happiness; Qatar, where each new husband gets a $7,000 monthly allowance, a building lot and a no-interest home loan; Iceland, where we learn that colder is happier; Moldova, "the least happy nation on the planet" according to Veenhoven's data; Thailand, where keeping the long view of life creates much joking and laughter; Great Britain, where culture hinders happiness; India, a destination happy place; and then back home to Miami, where all that sunshine leaves our author cold.

We learn that money wealth gives but a small edge.
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Format: Hardcover
Eric Weiner is an NPR correspondent who has reported from more than 30 countries. To write this far-reaching tome he had to travel to far-flung lands, all connected (with one exception) by a single thread: these were places where, reputedly, the citizenry is happy.

Two tiny countries offer a brilliant contrast in the principles that Weiner set out to examine. Qatar and Bhutan are relatively hard to reach. Both have inhospitable climates and a low population. Both have been altered greatly in very recent history, allowing for radical changes in the lifestyle of the citizenry.

Qatar is a pile of sand somewhere in the Middle East that became an earthly Eden when oil and natural gas were discovered there in such vast plentitude as to make work, for its extended family of Arabic inhabitants, obsolete. A Qatari will be paid to attend school, paid to marry, given a house and allowed to carelessly wreck as many cars as he sees fit. Rules no longer apply to the people of Qatar, in a broad sense, as long as they obey the dictates of their Islamic religion and stay inside, living within the bizarre hierarchy that dictates their society --- indoors because it is not possible to live very long without air conditioning in Qatar, which is basically a series of connected malls and mansions, and hierarchical because, of course, Qataris cannot do their own work. For that they import Indians, Nepalis and other lesser races.

These strictures made it difficult for Weiner to do what a journalist must do: interview the natives of the country. He was told that his American passport and Jewish name would prevent him from meeting real Qataris. So to experience the country, he had to be content with talking to expatriates and buying one "Ridiculously Expensive Pen.
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Format: Hardcover
This travelogue by self-confessed grump Eric "Whiner" is a yearlong tour of a very unusual assortment of countries (sample: Holland, Qatar, Bhutan and Iceland), most of which have been chosen because they are home to some of the happiest resident populations in the world, (although a couple are chosen to present a contrast). There are some interesting conclusions drawn about what does and doesn't make for happiness, about the importance of democracy and wealth (so revered in the US) and how they are part of the answer but far from being the solution.

Weiner has a lovely turn of phrase (reminiscent of Bill Bryson) and although The Geography of Bliss wasn't as laugh-out-loud funny as I expected (more dryly amusing), it is both immensely readable and packed to the gills with fascinating nuggets of information. Weiner visits two countries that I have spent considerable time in (India and Switzerland), and while I felt his observations of Switzerland were pretty much spot on, I felt that he only scratched the surface of India, a country which I consider to be particularly complex. But I loved his description of Slough in England (the location for the UK TV show "The Office") as "a showpiece of quiet desperation" and I now have even less desire than ever before to visit Moldava which sounds like a hideously depressing place.

Ultimately there are no major revelations in this book - essentially, his argument is that happiness means different things to different people - but it makes for easy, thought-provoking reading. I enjoyed it.
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