Tuesday, March 3, 2009

About The Geography of Bliss

The author, Eric Weiner, calls The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World, "a travelogue of ideas" and a "philosophical self-help humorous travel memoir." Weiner, a former NPR foreign correspondent, searches the world for the unheralded happy places, such as Iceland, Bhutan, Switzerland, India, and Thailand to name a few. All told, he looks at more than three-dozen countries assessing their happiness potential in a lighthearted survey that includes profiles of such locales as the American shores, glacial Iceland, and the Bhutan jungles.

In general, the Dutch are happy, the Romanians aren't, and we here in the good ole US are somewhere in between. Thailand, in fact, has a Gross Domestic Happiness Index that the government established to ensure fun is had by all. On the other end of the happy spectrum are the wealthy Qatar citizens who lead unhappy lives in a "gilded sandbox."

Weiner becomes involved with the citizens of these happy/not-so-happy countries. He eats rotten shark meat in Iceland, visits strip clubs in Bangkok, and smokes Moroccan hashish in Rotterdam, all in hopes of making the reader happier.

"With our words, we subconsciously conflate geography and happiness. We speak of searching for happiness, of finding contentment, as if these were locations in an atlas, actual places that we could visit if only we had the proper map and the right navigational skills. Anyone who has taken a vacation to, say, some Caribbean island and had flash through their mind the uninvited thought 'I could be happy here' knows what I mean."

So, where is the happiest place in the world? You'll just have to read the book to find out.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

About Eric Weiner

Eric Weiner always wanted to be a foreign correspondent, getting his wish in 1993 when he became NPR's first full-time correspondent in India. Over the course of his career, he has reported from more than 30 countries, "most of them profoundly unhappy," he says. He spent time in Iraq during the Saddam Hussein era, and in Afghanistan in 2001 when the Taliban fell. As a journalist he reported on war and its results (refugees, war orphans, etc.), and in general sought out the unhappy.

He has worked as a correspondent for NPR in New York, Miami and Washington, D.C. as well. In addition to his time with NPR, he was a reporter for the New York Times and was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University. He was also part of an NPR team of reporters that won the 1994 Peabody award for their investigation into the tobacco industry. He now lives in the Washington area with his wife and daughter.

He was a self-proclaimed grump (see subtitle) before writing The Geography of Bliss, but his outlook changed afterwards by accepting the simple Thai notion of "mai pen lai" which basically means, just let it go.

If you'd like to learn more about Eric Warner, check out his website.