After spending over a decade as a foreign corespondent for National Public Radio, Eric Weiner took on the task of finding out where people are happiest, and more importantly, why. So Eric spent months studying the people in 10 different countries of varying degrees of happiness. The end results is an incredibly interesting book not just about travel, but about the common elements of happiness.
Weiner, a self-proclaimed grumpy writer tackles the Netherlands, Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, Moldova, Thailand, Great Briton, India and America; all to discover the secrets of happiness (or unhappiness in these countries). The book contains some great information about each of the countries and it’s people. Weiner stays mostly clear of hard statistics and instead focuses on first hand accounts of countries’ residents. As it turns out, much can be learned by just asking the people what they believe is the key to their state of mind.
For example, the people of Bhutan, which exercises a policy of Gross National Happiness, put a great deal of trust in their king. Trust in your government, as it turns out, is one of the key factors to being happy. This is one reason why Moldova is on such an opposite end of countries like Bhutan.
Of all the findings Weiner documents, there is one point that stood out for me among the rest. The idea of lowering expectations to be happy seems un-American to the point that some right-wing talk show host should be rallying against it. But the fact is that lowered expectations, which also seems to be strongly linked to envy, can bring about great happiness. This is a point I took especially to heart.
A few years ago, around the time of the bubble bursting in the Bay Area, I was completely broke. Even though I had been making a good six-figure salary, my rent was nearly $3k per month, and I was supporting a family of three on my own. This left me with no real savings. So the worst case scenario happened and I had to move away from the area and move in with a relative for a couple months while I “got back on my feet”. It was a frustrating time, but oddly liberating. There is a certain calm that comes when the worst case scenario happens. I realize now that starting from nothing is sometimes the best place to start, because your expectations are nice and low. My hopes were simple then. I wanted to make enough money to support my family in a decent place, and have my son go to a decent school.
Within a few months I was back and making more money than before. I had thought I learned some lessons about my time in Silicon Valley, but slowly my expenses started to creep back to the point where I needed to have more income to support my lifestyle. 7 years ago I was broke and living with family. Now I live in a very expensive, very big house, in a very exclusive area. I have exceeded my expectations, and to be honest I’m incredibly unhappy about it.
Reading the Geography of Bliss I am reminded that when it comes to unhappiness, we often create our own prisons. Envy, high expectations, distrust, ambition; these all lead to an unhappy life.
It’s doubtful that reading Eric Weiner’s book will make you want to move to Bhutan or Iceland. But it’s likely that the stories about these countries will speak to you on a personal level. This is a book that I highly recommend to anyone looking to better understand the happiness (or lack of) in their own life.