Being a foreign correspondent for National Public Radio might sound like an alluring life, with images of flak jackets and late-night whiskeys in dive bars, but the harsh reality of it left Eric Weiner seeking sunnier days.
After 10 years of reporting from more than 30 different countries, he had had enough of war zones and wondered where all the happy people were. What he came up with can be found in “The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World” (Twelve/Hachette Book Group USA).
This story first appeared in the January 15, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Naturally, in preparing the book, Weiner did what any enterprising reporter would do: He headed straight for the World Database of Happiness, a nondescript, if not dreary, building in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, that houses scores of surveys on cheer. Based on those studies, Weiner finessed a 10-locale itinerary — including the Netherlands, Qatar, Iceland, Moldova, Thailand, Great Britain, India and, of course, the U.S. Here’s what he found out about some of the most jovial territories around:
– Bhutan has a Gross National Happiness policy. “It’s their way of saying there is more to life than money,” Weiner says.
– The Swiss are happier than most because they suppress envy. “They believe, ‘If you’ve got it, hide it,'” Weiner explains. Whereas, “our philosophy is, ‘If you’ve got it, flaunt it.'”
– In Iceland, “they embrace failure and even seem to enjoy it. But there is also a real sense of community.”
– Weiner is wary of the idea that people who live in the Netherlands are happier because of all that legal hashish. “Tolerance is great,” he says, “but tolerance can easily slide into indifference, and that’s no fun at all.”
In the end, though, who is to lower the gavel on glee? As Weiner says, “In Aristotle’s time, happiness and virtue were linked. Today the definition really is a feeling. If you are a bank robber, you may say you are happy. Who am I to say you aren’t?”