Sunday, October 23, 2011

Book Review: The Geography of Bliss

Do you consider yourself happy? Why? Because you have money? A great job? Supportive friends? Faith? In his book, The Geography of Bliss, Eric Weiner sets out to define happiness and understand why some people are happy, some people are not, what the difference is. The result of his journey is surprising.

I'll be honest, I was enamored by the idea of this book at the beginning. I love to travel, and I will readily admit that I have the travel bug. Bad. I just spent 10 days in Israel a few months ago, but I'm ready to go somewhere else now. So, it really appealed to me that Eric was going to travel, experience life in other places, and write about their happiness. How can I get that job?

And sociological training kicked in. Both of my degrees are from a department that focuses on recreation and tourism, and there's a whole lot of discussion in academia {and also now in the industry} about Western expectations, using ethnocentric measures {comparing people in other places to us and judging them by how they measure up to us}, and the impact of tourism on native economies, and culture. Needless to say, I was a little bit jaded by the prospect of yet another journalist traveling to some other country and writing about how much happier they'd all be if they adopted American {insert something here}. Or, conversely, about the "noble savage," that archetypal native person who lives in a hut and is so happy because they commune with nature and therefore doesn't need money or food, or anything.

I was pleasantly surprised, but not astounded. Yes, this book does take on a Western bias, but Eric is aware of that and does his very best to put the stories in the words of those he speaks to. He visits several countries, {Thailand, Great Britain, Iceland, Bhutan, Moldova} and tries to discern if they are happy. And if not, why. He finds that sometimes, happiness is not even a concept used by other cultures, that some languages don't even have that words. English, he says, is awful about that also. We have far more words to describe not happy than we do to describe happy.

Overall? The book is OK. It's a quick read, and easy to get through. There's not much fancy language. But, its a pop-culture psuedo study. A journalist looking for a large story. Which is fine. It gives some valuable insight and makes you want to go explore some places. But, I wouldn't pay full-price for it.

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