Book Review: “The Geography of Bliss” by Eric Weiner

Add another page to the “Why Didn’t I Think of That?” file.

The concept is so elegantly simple: take what is arguably the top two human aspirations – happiness and travel – combine them, then flesh out a book proposal. I bet that book deal was inked on the strength of the overview alone.

Thusly inspired, I’m already 2,000 words into my latest book proposal about Lamborghinis and orgasms, but I digress…

“The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World” (Twelve), a memoir/travelogue by Eric Weiner, beautifully blends the timeless search for happiness with an amusing on-the-ground examination of the dispositions of people in 10 of the most (and least) contented countries on Earth.

A confessed “mope”, Weiner (coincidentally pronounced ‘whiner’ – ki ki ki!) admits straight off that he’s a hard sell on happiness. You’d be too after two decades working as a foreign correspondent for National Public Radio, reporting on wars, disasters and the ancillary misery. Untold years of introspection, therapy and a metric ton of self-help books have yielded little progress and having recently entered the Heart Attack Years, he confesses that his happiness attainment optimism is flagging.

Stick around after the review to see how you can get your hands on a copy of the book for free, just in time for Christmas!

His epic quest for bliss starts in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, where Weiner plunders an encyclopedic database of worldwide happiness levels, maintained by noted happiness researcher Professor Ruut Veenhoven. Conveniently, the Dutch make a good showing on the happiness index, what with their cycling, prostituting, soft drugging ways, so Weiner starts his research immediately by making a beeline for the nearest hash bar.

Though it was good hash (the Moroccan), it fell short of being the key to his happiness. So Weiner dons his journalist tights and cape and sets out on months of travel to happy places (Iceland, Switzerland, Bhutan, Thailand) and a few unhappy places (Moldova, Slough [U.K.]), where he conducts interviews to uncover what makes these people so happy/unhappy.

Weiner does an enviable job of balancing his travelogue with what must have been painstaking research, while maintaining a light and humorous tone. Two decades of jet setting journalism has put a finish on his writing style that is at once worldly and polished without becoming tedious or snobbish. His insight, careful consideration and occasional epiphanies show that while he may not have achieved everlasting happiness (yet), his exhaustive pursuit of it has made him extremely well-versed in the theory.

Does he find the key to bliss? Well, you’re gonna have to buy the book. But I will offer that while reading this book, not only did I get a good read on my own happiness (which was unexpectedly high), but I also gleaned a rather surprising number of tips to making myself even more happy. Though I can tell you from personal experience that gleaning tips and utilizing tips are two very different things.

“The Geography of Bliss” is due out in hardcover in January of ’08, exquisitely timed for when everyone’s post-holiday letdown starts taking hold. Pre-order it for your favorite grumpy travel enthusiast now.

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