Part foreign affairs discourse, part humor, and part twisted self-help guide, The Geography of Bliss takes the reader from America to Iceland to India in search of happiness, or, in the crabby author's case, moments of "un-unhappiness." The book uses a beguiling mixture of travel, psychology, science and humor to investigate not what happiness is, but where it is. Are people in Switzerland happier because it is the most democratic country in the world? Do citizens of Qatar, awash in petrodollars, find joy in all that cash? Is the King of Bhutan a visionary for his initiative to calculate Gross National Happiness? Why is Asheville, North Carolina so damn happy? With engaging wit and surprising insights, Eric Weiner answers those questions and many others, offering travelers of all moods some interesting new ideas for sunnier destinations and dispositions.
As a foreign correspondent for National Public Radio, Eric Weiner has spent much of his career traveling to some of the world's least happy places -- Iraq and Afghanistan among them. It bummed him out. Undertaking his first book, The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World, he decided it was time for a change of approach. "What if, I wondered, I spent a year traveling the globe, seeking out not the world's well-trodden trouble spots but, rather, its unheralded happy places?" he writes. "Places that possess, in spades, one or more of the ingredients that we consider essential to the hearty stew of happiness: money, pleasure, spirituality, family, and chocolate, among others." So he set about seeking a variety of Shangri-Las: testing tolerance and Moroccan hashish in the Netherlands; learning to accept loss and relinquish regret in Bhutan; contemplating the lavish wealth and lack of culture (and taxes) in Qatar; marveling at the darkness, drunkenness, and remarkable creativity in Iceland; eschewing introspection and embracing fun in Thailand; looking for contrast in miserable Moldova, "the world's least happy country." Along the way, Weiner gathers insights from many wise and well-traveled people, relates the latest findings in the field of happiness research, and turns enough pleasing phrases to keep even the surliest reader happy. --Amy Reiter