The Geography of Bliss | Eric Weiner

Summary of: The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World
By: Eric Weiner


Embark on a fascinating journey across the globe as we explore the secrets behind the world’s happiest and unhappiest places in Eric Weiner’s book, ‘The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World.’ Delve into the realms of happiness research, tackling complex questions, methodologies, and analysis of various countries, including the Netherlands, Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, Moldova, Thailand, and India. Discover how cultural, social, economic, political, and spiritual factors contribute to a nation’s bliss quotient, and learn the valuable lessons each country teaches in the pursuit of happiness.

The Science Behind Happiness

Happiness research, although seemingly subjective, is a field gaining popularity, with the Netherlands being a leading hub for such research. Dutch Professor Ruut Veenhoven’s Journal of Happiness Studies and World Database of Happiness are widely used resources. The database presents a collection of statistics and research insights from various countries. While some findings are clear-cut, like married people being happier than singles and the rich being happier than the poor, others like the relationship between religiousness and happiness are contradictory. The Netherlands is among the world’s happiest countries, potentially attributable to aspects like their democratic and wealthy European nation’s functioning welfare system and attitude towards toleration. Happiness measurement varies, with self-reporting being a notably accurate method.

The Keys to Swiss Happiness

Switzerland’s happiness is attributed to a culture of precision, taboo of discussing wealth, liberal euthanasia laws, and picturesque nature.

Switzerland, a nation known for its precision, has managed to consistently rank high on happiness charts despite its perceived “sleepy” reputation. The culture of punctuality and orderliness has effectively eliminated sources of unhappiness, with everything running like clockwork, from trains following strict schedules to spotless sidewalks and bathrooms. The Swiss also have a cultural taboo against discussing wealth, avoiding triggers of envy, a roadblock to happiness. They steer clear from flaunting their wealth, unlike the US, where it seems to be the motto. Another contributing factor to Swiss happiness is their liberal euthanasia laws, keeping them at ease in the worst-case scenario.

Nature also plays a crucial role in Switzerland’s happiness, as the picturesque beauty of the Alps remains a constant source of joy. The Biophilia Hypothesis, put forward by the Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist and naturalist E.O. Wilson, highlights how humans have a genetic trait for enjoying nature’s beauty. Roger Ulrich’s study further reinforces the effect of nature, as patients recovering from surgery with a view of nature heal faster.

Switzerland’s happiness is a culmination of a culture of precision, avoidance of triggers of envy, liberal euthanasia laws, and picturesque nature.

Discovering Happiness in Bhutan

Bhutan is a remote Himalayan country that values Gross National Happiness over Gross National Product. Unlike Western nations, Bhutanese culture emphasizes the pursuit of happiness, not money. Bhutanese people have free healthcare and education, and they are shielded from corporate advertising. Bhutan’s Buddhist spirituality also contributes to its happiness, where the line between reality and fantasy happily blur.

Money can’t buy happiness

Qatar, a country with vast oil reserves, has used its wealth to create the ultimate welfare state, with free education, healthcare, and no taxes for its citizens. Despite all this, Qataris complain about being unhappy, lacking culture and the satisfaction of a hard day’s work. Many are weighed down by the burden of wealth, missing the small pleasures of life. The Qatari culture is also pessimistic about the idea of happiness, believing it to be out of human control. The key takeaway is that happiness cannot exist without the occasional discomfort to compare it with.

Happiness through Creativity in Iceland

Iceland is a country known for its creativity and love for the arts, which is reflected in their landscape dotted with bookstores, record shops, art galleries and cafes. Despite the harsh climate, Icelanders are known to be among the happiest people in the world. A significant reason for this is their culture’s inclination towards naivete and failure, encouraging people to try their hand at creativity without fear of criticism. Writing, painting, and sculpting are all activities that Icelanders indulge in, with everyone from taxi drivers to hotel clerks being writers. The country’s dramatic geysers, hot springs, glaciers, and volcanic rock add to its inspirational landscape, contributing to the birth of otherworldly creatures of dwarves and elves, giving Iceland its unique identity. The emphasis on creativity is what makes Iceland stand out in the global happiness index, proving that happiness can be achieved through art and creativity.

Moldova: The World’s Poorest Country

According to Veenhoven’s World Database of Happiness, Moldova is the world’s hub of misery, and economics is the top reason for their unhappiness. With an average per capita annual income of only $880, Moldova may not be the poorest country, but it stings more as it is surrounded by wealthy neighbors. Rampant corruption and a lack of natural resources add to Moldova’s woes. In addition, Moldova also lacks a strong national identity due to Russia’s creation of the region after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Moldovans display a pervasive pessimism filled with resignation and envy, often enjoying the misfortunes of others more than their own advancements.

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