If you are a travel enthusiast or are in a quest to find happiness, you need to “The Geography of Bliss” RIGHT NOW! This book, written by Eric Weiner, has one of the unique concepts that I have ever come across. It is the narrative of ‘the grumpiest man on the planet… in search of the happiest place in the world’. Once you start reading it, you wouldn’t stop until you reach the last page. It is simply unputdownable and so intriguing. With the perfect blend of humor, spirituality, and mind-blowing facts sprinkled with the descriptions of some delicious food, this would make you map the entire world in the quest for happiness.
The Geography of Bliss (Review)
If you still didn’t understand the theme of the book, let me explain it to you. Weiner travels to ten countries, namely, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, Moldova, Thailand, Great Britain, India, and America, with the quest to find happiness. Throughout this journey of exploring ten countries completely different from one another, he documents his insights, experiences, customs, and culinary facts of every nation. Weiner never hesitates to share with the readers the never-heard-before perspectives and viewpoints of the diverse people from diverse countries, which may sound ridiculous at first but make total sense when you ponder upon them. We have all heard Eric Hoffer’s famous saying that “The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.” Rightfully said, Hoffer’s quote is something that even Weiner is aware of. Yet, he embarks on this journey because he thinks he has nothing to lose since, in his words, he is “already unhappy”!
On his visit to the Netherlands, he gets to know that prostitution and drugs are legal activities. Hence, do they lead the Dutch to happiness? Well, you got to read the book to find out! No spoilers here. The Dutch dispassionately study happiness like it’s a part of their academic syllabus. We can’t help but agree with Weiner when he realizes that the country has reduced happiness to merely a datum or statistic that needs to be analyzed, calculated, surveyed, and ultimately, “reduced to spreadsheets.” Then, what is it that brings happiness in the Netherlands?
One of my favorite parts of the book is when he visits Bhutan – the country with happiness as a policy. Not to forget, Bhutan is also the happiest country in the world. Here, he has some unusual experiences from which he learns a lot and gets perspective regarding certain things. His ideology is shaken and cracked to its very core by the Bhutanese way of living. He finds the country peculiar and with the power to make you lose your bearings."The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness." – Eric Hoffer Do you agree?
Throughout his quest for finding happiness, we also see the funny Weiner getting all philosophical and grave. I really find it interesting to read his viewpoint on positive psychology. He states how clowns and laughter cannot always make life better and are not really needed at all times. Some people are not ready to be joyful or are not interested in being happy. And, we need to accept that as that is totally alright. Having a happy life is not always the same as having a meaningful life. Some seek for happiness, others for meanings while many look for both.
When he comes to India, Weiner is stunned by how people live in the ashrams, devoting themselves to seva and the ashram owners making money out of it. India is a country that amuses him to a great extent. He wonders why so many Westerners leave behind their lavish lifestyles and developed nations to move to a poor and dysfunctional country like India. Just for the sake of bliss? Of course, yes, but the question is, why? Is it the sheer romanticization of the East or “did the nineteenth-century scholar Marx Mueller get it right when he said that, by going to India, we are returning to our “old home,” full of memories, if only we can read them”?
With all its hustle-bustle, bazaars, hawkers, etc., India makes it a delight for the traveler’s ears. He rightfully says that “even the Third World traffic, with its symphony of honking horns and tinkling bells, beats the monotonous whoosh of a modern freeway.”
Iceland does a great deal in breaking the myth of an Unhappy Artist for Weiner. Shelly, Byron, and many other nineteenth-century poets died at a very young age. Moreover, singers like Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix have added to the myth of artists always being sad souls. Iceland punches this myth right on its face as Weiner meets several artists who were cheerful, happy, and had so much to give to life. When he asked Hilmar, an artist, if he was happy, he replied, “Yes, but I cherish my melancholia.”
This book is such a great mix of self-help, wanderlust, breathtaking imageries of roads and landscapes – a concoction of all things nice! Being a traveler myself, the idea of home has always been confusing for me, and so is for many other travelers. I came across a beautiful line in the book which makes for an awesome food for thought: ‘There is one simple question, he said, the answer to which identifies your true home. The question is: “Where do you want to die?”