[Book Review] The Geography of Bliss

Carly Allard, 129 YinD

Title: The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World

Author: Eric Weiner

Published: Twelve (2008)

Synopsis: Former NPR correspondent and self-proclaimed “grump” Eric Weiner takes readers along his year-long quest for the happiest countries in the world. Weiner’s journey follows a fairly new social science phenomena, “the science of happiness”, and seeks to answer the age-old question, “What makes people happy?”

Somewhere between The Netherlands, Bhutan, Iceland, Thailand, and many others, Weiner starts to develop an understanding of what makes people genuinely happy in countries ranking as some of the happiest in the world. On the other end of the spectrum, Weiner finds himself among the dark, dingy streets of Moldova – labeled one of the least-happy countries in the world – and grasps at an understanding of what may cause people to be unhappy.

There’s tales of love, loss, wealth, and poverty in each of the countries Weiner visits. That’s not to say any one country is immune to any of these blessings and burdens, but rather, it seems the way people in a given country deal with life’s celebrations and complications defines where the country falls on the happiness spectrum.

Weiner’s story isn’t your typical travel book, but rather a book about traveling with purpose, traveling to collect ideas and insights from various corners of our world. It’s true, the author never discloses which of his travels brought him to “the happiest country in the world”, but instead he leaves readers contemplating the meaning of happiness, the root of content, and the sense of place. In his own words, Weiner explains, “Place. That is what The Geography of Bliss is about. How place—in every aspect of the word—shapes us, defines us. Change your place, I believe, and you can change your life.”

Personal Connections and Reflections: The 335 pages of Eric Weiner’s story are not for the faint of heart, but his reflections, insights, and experiences certainly help readers keep the pages turning (or clicking, as I do on my Kindle). I happened upon this book by pure accident, thanks to a free Kindle download, and am not sorry I took the time to read it. That being said, I do have mixed feelings about whether or not I liked this book for many different reasons.

For starters, the book and its chapters – each of which revolves around a new country – seemed long and I found myself wishing for more excitement. I often noticed Weiner would go off on random tangents, most of which were relevant to the given topic, but found myself thinking, “Alright, bring it back to the story.” I did, however, find it very rewarding to find out which country Weiner was headed to next immediately after finishing a chapter. That part was really fun for this travel-lover!

If I were to pinpoint what I liked the best about Weiner’s book it’d be the fact that it is truly unlike anything I’ve read before. Sure, I’ve read my fair share of travel books and adventure tales, but Weiner’s book was less about adventuring for the sake of an Instagram post or stamps in a passport and more about finding the answer to a question he himself found difficult to solve. Since completing the book, I’ve not only added a handful of countries to my bucket list, but I’ve begun to question and rethink the way I travel and what sort of traveler I want to be in the future. Weiner says, “Travel, at its best, transforms us in ways that aren’t always apparent until we’re back home.”

My experience in Thailand has already been and will forever be different than my experience in any other foreign country. My six-month study abroad semester in Germany during college was the extent of my living abroad and I lived with a host family in Germany for a month during high school, but neither experience comes close to the wild ride I’m currently on. For the first time in my life, I’m totally immersed in another country, culture, and language. I’ll admit, there are some days I hate it here and want nothing more than to be home, back in my comfort zone with the people I love. But other times I love it here, love what I’m doing and what I’m learning, and can’t imagine going back to my “old life”.

Thailand and my Peace Corps experience have, in a sense, done exactly what Weiner’s book challenged me to do: travel differently. Being here for almost six months has already taught me so much about the complexities of culture and of the interconnectedness of our great, big world. And, as Weiner mentions, I’m sure the transformation of this wild and crazy adventure will not be truly apparent until I am two years ahead of today’s self, back home and looking back.

For more book reviews by Carly check out her blog: 27 Books in 27 Months

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