In a world that values the idea of positive psychology (“Think good thoughts and you will be happy!”), I am drawn to author Eric Weiner, a self-proclaimed grump. In his New York Times bestseller, THE GEOGRAPHY OF BLISS, Weiner sets out with his Lonely Planet guides and nothing to lose. An unhappy man, he is in search not for what makes people happy, but where. Although as I read, I start to learn it may be hard to tell the difference.
With the recent release of my own travel memoir, THIS IS HOW I SAVE MY LIFE, I find Weiner’s journey particularly fascinating. While most of us, myself included, seek to fulfill our desire for happiness in a rushed, possibly panicked, and often-desperate way, Weiner is different. He is a refreshing voice. He doesn’t seem terribly bothered by being unhappy or worried about finding his own bliss. Instead, he takes us along on his tour of countries with the intent to find the answers to geographical happiness, with an understanding that only the most experienced travelers have—the lands you visit have no desire to please you. You get what you get, not what you want.
I thought I knew a decent amount about many of the places Weiner visited: the Netherlands, Qatar, Great Britain and beyond. But with Weiner and the new friends he meets as my guides, I found myself reabsorbed in a whole new way.
In each of the countries, you’ll become privy to interesting tidbits of culture, history, and entertaining inside information. For example, in Bhutan, everyone is happy, but no one talks about it. In fact, there’s only one psychiatrist in the entire country. In Iceland, where it’s dark, cold, and isolated, people are joyous. No one seems to have SAD (seasonal affective disorder), a common occurrence in the United States. In Qatar, you’ll learn about financial abundance, the history of the lottery, and what wealth actually means for happiness (spoiler alert: not much).
While, in my opinion, the entire book was perfection, my favorite of Weiner’s travel tales comes from India, where much of the material for my own memoir was derived. My experience in India pushed me to the brink of insanity: sensory overload from even just stepping outside, lack of hot water on many days, and crowds so dense that you often couldn’t move your arms while you were walking. It’s a country of chaos that most Westerners aren’t at all prepared for. In the end, I found peace—and even fell in love with it. And how Weiner brought India to life had me nodding my head all the way through.
THE GEOGRAPHY OF BLISS shows me that there’s more to life than finding happiness. There is perhaps some joy in looking for it.