The Geography of Bliss is the story of a grouch who was travelling the world looking for the happiest place. The book contains his insight into happiness for the Dutch, Swiss, Bhutan, Qatar, Islandia, Moldova, Thai, British, Indian, and American. Feature picture: Pexels.
by Eric Weiner
“A journey is personal. Even if I walk with you, your journey is not my journey.” -Paul Theroux
“The book is captivating and thought-provoking.” -Entertainment Weekly
“Entertain, make the head spin, ambitious.” -Associated Press
“Full of insight, jovial and sharp.” -Denver Rocky Mountain News
“Pleasant contemplation, arouse interest, simple.” -Trenton Times (NJ)
“Read this book and this book will keep you smiling.” -Austin American-Statesman
“Displays openness to other cultures and a great sense of humor in the view of a charming, funny, and full understanding of the idea of happiness.” -Booklist
“Clever and entertaining. The story of a great and funny journey.” -Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“The Grouch who intriguing, enchanting, and entertaining.” -Los Angeles Times
“Weiner, partly a philosopher, is a travel guide. And the other part is an expert in the independent activity has written a book that can exhilarate you.” -Vanity Fair
“Almost every page makes me laugh. It is whether because of wonder or awe. Or knowing something unique. We can not obtain it from the World Book Encyclopedia.” -Rhett Vorster, Fort Worth, TX
“The funniest book I have ever read in a long time.” -Barbara Elovic, Brooklyn, NY
Before reading the book review, let us watch the video below:
One hidden tempting thing is the concept known as a heaven. Plato imagined it as a blessed island. A place where happiness flows like warm Mediterranean water. Until the 18th century, people believed that the heaven mentioned in the Bible, Garden of Eden, is a real place. The place on the map lies at the confluence of Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which in modern times are in Iraq.
European explorers prepare an expedition looking for paradise by learning Aramaic. Jesus used the language. I began my journey, my search for paradise, not by speaking the language of Aramaic. I did not bring the Bible, only some Lonely Planet guides.
Happiness is a number
It’s been the nature of us as human beings. We derive pleasure from watching others get busy doing fun activities. This explains why these two businesses are so popular: pornography and cafes. Americans are superior in the first, a series of Europeans do better on the second attempt.
I have even heard of a cafe in Tel Aviv that does not provide food and drinks. The cafe serves only empty plates and cups to its customers, but with a high rate.
Cafes and theaters are where customers become the audience and the players. I found a cafe one block from my hotel in the center of Amsterdam. The cafe was spacious, comfortable, and unkempt. Wood flooring was good, but not yet polished. It was the kind of place where we can spend hours enjoying beer. Many people there do that.
As you must have guessed, I am a person with plenty of free time. That’s the true intention of cafes in Europe: to waste too much time without feeling guilty. No wonder most of the world’s philosophers come from Europe.
People hang out in cafes. They let their minds wander to a stream of radical new philosophy – such as existentialism. It just appears in their heads.
I did not come here to find a new philosophical trend. I was busy with what the French call “la chasse au bonheur,” the hunt for happiness.
In particular, my goal is to meet a Dutch professor named Ruut Veenhoven. He is the father of research for happiness. Veenhoven maintains the World Database of Happiness (WDH). This is not a joke. Read more about “99 Ways To Be Happier Every Day” here.
Veenhoven has gathered in one location: a lot of human science about what makes us happy and what does not. That is very exciting for me, the places where you feel the happiest. If there is a road map of happiness out there, an atlas of bliss, then Ruut Veenhoven will know it.
How can we measure happiness? Happiness is a feeling, a mood, a view of life. Can we measure happiness?
Neuroscientists at the University of Iowa have identified regions of the brain. It associated with happy and sad mood. The trick is to connect the research subjects (students who are in need of fast money) with the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine. Then the researchers showed a series of pictures to the students.
When they showed pictures of fun to the subject, the front part of the ear became active. When it is disagreeable to the subject, the more primitive parts of the brain became alive.
Are we able to measure our own happiness? For example, when I was 17 years old. At that time I was very happy, no matter what happened in the world. Now, when I look back, I was only high on marijuana at the time. And also because of the influence of beer.
Social scientists produce a lot of research papers. Here are some of their findings:
– those who are extroverts are happier than those who are introverts.
– optimistic people are happier than those who are pessimistic.
– those who are married are happier than those who are single.
– couples who have children are not happier than couples who do not have children.
– those who attend religious services are happier than those who do not.
– people who get a degree from a college are happier than those who do not have a degree.
– people who have a very high degree are less happy than those with only a bachelor’s degree.
– people are least happy when they’re coming home or going to go to work.
What I wanted to know is not who is happy, but where they are happy and why.
My days in Rotterdam got stuck into a pleasant routine. I ate breakfast at the hotel, always took the subway to WDH. I filtered papers and research data, searching for happiness atlas. I went to the cafe in the night.
It was a routine that involves a lot of contemplation. The liquor is quite a lot and very little real work. In other words, a routine that is very European.
Which countries are the least happy? Not surprisingly, African nations are included in this category. The reason seems obvious. Extreme poverty is not conducive to happiness. If our basic needs are not met, we can not be happy.
Believe it or not, most people in the world say that they are happy. Most people in the world are happy. Researches by Veenhoven showed that tolerant people tend to be happier.
What kinds of things do The Dutch tolerate in everyday life? There are three things that come to my mind: drugs, prostitution, and cycling. In the Netherlands, the three activities are all legal.
When I left Holland, I felt an unexpected relief. Even freedom. Free from what? Then I began to realize, freedom from it all. Tolerance was very nice, but tolerance can shift to ignorance. And it’s not pleasant at all.
Besides, I could not live in the atmosphere so much leeway. I am too weak. If I move to the Netherlands, a few months later you will find me engulfed in Morocco cannabis smoke while embracing a prostitute in my left and right arm.
Happiness is boredom
The stereotype is true. Switzerland’s efficient and timely. They are also rich and has almost no unemployment. And oh the air is clean! The streets are almost immaculate. Early in the morning do not forget to try the hot chocolate, it was delicious and plentiful.
In Switzerland, not only restrooms, but everything was clean. In some countries, drinking tap water would be suicidal. In Switzerland, drinking the tap water is style. Zurich even boasts the quality of the tap water to tourists.
There are no holes in the streets of Switzerland. Everything is working. Switzerland is a very functional society. It eliminates a lot of reasons to be unhappy.
But the very impressive thing is its image as a prosperous country and its well-organized people. So that some other countries portray themselves as the Swiss in a particular area. Singapore is the Switzerland of Asia. Costa Rica is the Switzerland of Central America.
Swiss people are happy because they’re trying not to cause envy in others. Instinctively, the Swiss know that envy is a big enemy of happiness. And they do everything to destroy envy. The attitude of the Swiss is to not dampen too bright spotlight on themselves. It is to prevent overheating.
Swiss people hate talking about money. They prefer to talk about their genital warts rather than disclose their income. I met some Swiss people who I feel are unable to pronounce the word money. They rub their fingers together to state they’re talking about money.
It seemed odd to me because the Swiss economy is based on banking, a profession that deals with money. The Swiss know that money, more than anything, triggers envy. The American way is: you got it, show it off. On the other hand, the Swiss are like: you’ve got it, hide it.
In Switzerland, the rich man does not show off his money because it is not necessary. Everybody knows he’s rich. The Swiss know everything about their neighbors.
In America, the worst thing that can happen to you is to be a loser. In Switzerland, the worst thing that can happen to you is to be the flashy winner of nouveau riche (new rich people). “This horrific”, a Swiss told me about the new rich, as if he was saying about the terrible disease.
The Swiss hum and feel satisfied. They never go down to the lower level but never reach the top either. The Swiss never describes something as awesome or super, but only not bad (c’est pas mal).
Is that the secret of happiness? Happiness researchers have found that from a statistical standpoint, Swiss people realize something. The central point spanned better life than swinging from the highest point and lowest point.
The Swiss like regulations as much as the Dutch like marijuana and prostitution. In many parts of Switzerland, you should not be mowing the lawn or flick carpet on Sunday. You can not hang your laundry on the balcony on any day. You can not flush the toilet after 10:00 pm.
The Swiss man, no matter how cosmopolitan he is, has never lost his love for the countryside. Even a millionaire in Switzerland sees himself as a mountain man in his heart. They say you can not understand the Swiss without visiting the Alpine. And so I went there.
My guide and I arrived in a tacky town on Alpine, Zermatt. Small electric cars miles around the city. Zermatt prohibits ordinary cars. Swiss greets the regulations with joy to protect their beloved Alpine.
In 1984, a psychologist named Roger Ulrich studied patients. They are recovering from gall bladder surgery at a hospital in Pennsylvania. Some patients stay in a room facing the beach small trees in autumn. Some patients stay in a room facing a brick wall.
Patients with window views of nature stay in the hospital for shorter days. They have fewer postoperative negative comments in the notes to the nurse. While the patient in a room overlooking a brick wall need more injections of painkillers. The implication of this research is immense. Nature gives us a happier feeling.
The Swiss trust each other. I can book a hotel room without giving my credit card number. I pump gas without paying first. The Swiss work by belief systems, such as small resting huts that looked like the points in the Alps. There are foods in it. We can eat these foods and leave money.
I’m in love. My love object is not a woman nor even a man. It is the Swiss rail network. I loved its soft whisper. How its window glass sliding doors between carriages open and close so gracefully. I loved the way the flight attendants serve fresh coffee and croissants. I love how they serve it on the original ceramic.
I liked the wooden boards in the bathroom. I loved the leather chair. I love when the train stops small platforms emerged under my feet. I overcome the urge to stay on the train Switzerland forever, alternating between Geneva and Basel and Zurich and anywhere. Not important. I can be happy here, on a Switzerland train.
But I do not ride the train forever. I stopped in Bern, the quiet Swiss capital. Albert Einstein lived in Bern. It is the city where, according to him, he had “the happiest thought of my life”.
The thought was the inspiration that gave birth to the theory of special relativity. It is in a simple apartment in the city’s main shopping street. Now people use it as a small museum. The government has restored it exactly as Einstein lived there.
The Swiss are rich and patient, a rare combination. They know how to be slow. I had been there for 2 weeks and no one has ever looked at his watch and said “I have to go” or “I have to go back to work”.
One similarity between the Swiss and me is we are very fond of chocolate. This is not insignificant similarity. The Swiss eat a lot of chocolate. And there is credible evidence that chocolate makes us happier.
We need a new word to describe the Switzerland happiness. It was more than contentment but less than full-on joy. The suitable word is conjoyment, a combination of contentment and joy. Yes, the Swiss own conjoyment completely.
We can use this word to describe all kinds of situations where we are excited but calm at the same time. We may experience conjoyment when we do things that are mundane. For example, sweeping the floor or sorting trash or listening to the old CD we have not heard for years.
Happiness is wisdom
Who does not dream of having a quiet and fun intellectually? A place made for the head and the heart.
Bhutan, I think, is most close to Shangri-La. Bhutan has mountains, towering peaks that touch heaven. But in Bhutan, there is no world class airport. We can hardly call it as an airport. Only a small shack terminal with carved wood and turning patterns of red and blue. It looks more like a Buddhist temple than an airport.
Bhutan was the last country in the world to get television. In 1999, it became a part of life that is irreplaceable and controversial. The teenagers of Bhutan, for reasons that are not clear, develop pleasure at WrestleMania.
Sangay Ngedup, a former Prime Minister, concerned and that is also felt by many people of Bhutan. “Until recently, we are embarrassed to kill insects. But now we watch on television the head with a rifle shot,” he told the British newspaper The Guardian.
A low crime rate in Bhutan, barely audible murder, contribute to the happiness there. Not surprising that the areas with a high crime rate rankings have a low rank on the scale of happiness.
As said in Buddhism, there is nothing greater than love. If we have done something good, we will feel the satisfaction. We need to think about death for 5 minutes every day. It will heal, cleanse us.
Bhutan is a place upside down. People there consider 13 the lucky number. Children welcome us with bye-bye. King wants to dismiss himself.’
Bhutan is closed from others until the 1970s. Even after that, Bhutan is not an easy visited country. You have to want it.
Linda Leaming wanted it. She sold everything and moved from New York to teach English in Bhutan. She fell in love with Bhutan and then fell in love with a citizen of Bhutan. She lived there ever since.
Linda explains that many Bhutan men withdrew from the crowds to meditate for three years. For 3 years, 3 months, and 3 days they did nothing but meditate. They did not even get a haircut.
And for 3 years they do not speak. It was very surprising to me. The longest time I have ever traveled without speaking is 9 hours. I went to bed at that time.
The uniqueness of Bhutan is, they do things that do not make sense economically. They ignore million dollars of tourism income or refuse to sell valuable timber. Bhutanese people who are poor, do not worship the God of efficiency and productivity.
Taking a trip to Bhutan still contains elements of hard work, suffering. That exceeds the travel by economy class flight from Los Angeles to New York. The streets were not conquering nature. Nature conquer the streets. Bent followed acting. It twisting and winding past the mountains in a series of zig-zag without end.
It is meditative for about 10 minutes. Then I felt it made me nauseous. Now I know what it felt when a pair of socks is upside down in a dryer. No wonder the two socks escape.
Bhutan streets compete for zoos in the world. We passed countless of cows, pigs, horses, monkeys, and dogs. Sometimes it feels like a very exhilarating trip. A very steep incline makes me feel we flew along the side of the ridge. Birds followed us, like dolphins who revel in the back of the ship reinforce the feeling.
A few kilometers from Thimpu, I met my first penis. Horrible, like the original, painted on the side of a house. There were more male penises, much more.
Colored penis. The penis consists of only one color. The big and small penis. The penis dangling from the side of a building. Other penis swinging from the end of a bar like confetti.
People had designed it to avoid evil spirits. As an owner of a penis, I can not think of another body part that is less qualified to avoid evil spirits than the penis. Genitals commit sin and people regard them as unreliable. It tends to attract crime, not throw it out. It is better parents use any wood-elbow or thumb, for God’s sake, unless the genitals.
Money sometimes buys happiness, but you have to break it down. Money is a tool to reach the certain purpose. The problem is when you think that money itself is the destination.
Happiness is a relationship. And people in the West think they need money for the relationship. Yet, they do not. Relationship is associated with trustworthiness.
I have heard the same thing in Switzerland. Trust is prerequisite for happiness. Trust not only in your government, the institutions but also in your neighbors. Some studies have found that trust – more than income or even a health, is the biggest factor in determining our happiness.
The next day, Linda and I have dinner at her apartment. She also lived on a hill overlooking Thimphu. The apartment is small but cozy. She introduced me to her husband, Namgay. “I am married to the noble, savage, and happy person,” he said with affection.
During dinner, she told me about Namgay’s first visit to the Sharper Image store in the United States. Namgay was quite mesmerized. This is a place full of amazing items. The owner designed it to meet the varying needs even Namgay not knowing that he has it.
He chose every item, for example, the combination juicer/shiatsu massager. And studied it thoroughly enchanted. “But the problem is,” said Linda, “he did not have any desire to buy any. He was already satisfied just to admire it and then put it down and go.”
Sitting here at the airport terminal that looks like a Buddhist temple, I was watching the game archery on a small television screen and drinking bad instant coffee. The feeling is familiar to me: Relax.
Not tranquility influenced by marijuana or alcohol, but the actual tranquility. I pick up a pen and wrote the following words in my notebook. So if they find my body in the wreckage of the airplane, it will be recognizable.
I’m not going to do every single thing differently. All moments in my life, every person I’ve met, all the traveling I take, every success I have enjoyed, the mistakes I’ve made, I’m responsible. It is not a problem.
I’m not saying that it is all good or happens for a reason. I am not the fatalism follower. But all that did not matter.
Can I thank Bhutan for this breakthrough? Hard to say. Bhutan is not Shangri-la. I am sure of that. But Bhutan is a strange place. Strange in both large and small things.
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