geography of bliss

 

Eric Weiner’s The Geography of Bliss signals the arrival of the next great category of literary nonfiction: the philosophical self-help humorous travel memoir.

Weiner, a veteran foreign correspondent for National Public Radio, has covered a multitude of catastrophes and maladies from more than 30 countries over the past two decades. For The Geography of Bliss, however, he decided to tell the other side of the story by visiting some of the world’s most contented places.

Using the ancient philosophers and the much more recent “science of happiness” as his guide, Weiner travels the world in search of the happiest places. Many authors have attempted to describe what happiness is; fewer have shown us where it is, and what we can learn from the inhabitants of different cultures.

As Weiner makes his way from Iceland (one of the world’s happiest countries) to Bhutan (where the king has made Gross National Happiness a national priority) to Moldova (not a happy place), he calls upon the collective wisdom of “the self-help industrial complex” to help him navigate the path to contentment.

He travels to Switzerland, where he discovers the hidden virtues of boredom; to the tiny-and extremely wealthy-Persian Gulf nation of Qatar, where the relationship between money and happiness is laid bare; to India, where Westerners seek their bliss at the feet of gurus; to Thailand, where not thinking is a way of life; to a small town outside London where happiness experts attempt to “change the psychological climate.” He also travels within the U.S.-and discovers that paradise is always a step away.

Throughout his global quest, Weiner integrates the insights of classical thinkers on happiness, augmented by one-liners worthy of a stand-up comedian. This is travel writing that simultaneously journeys across the globe and through the author’s mind.

Weiner is no dispassionate observer. In his quest for the world’s happiest places, he eats rotten Icelandic shark, smokes Moroccan hashish and intervenes to save an insect in distress. Almost. Full of inspired moments and earned epiphanies, The Geography of Bliss sets out to accomplish a feat few books dare and even fewer achieve: to make you happier.

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