Please note: All opinions in this post are my own.
My rating: 4 / 5
A little confession: the reason I was first attracted to this book was because I love Geography. Being a Geography graduate, anything around the topic interests me, so I was drawn to the book from the word go.
Moreover, I love this idea. The concept of travelling, not to see the most fanciful places or lie on an exotic beach, but travelling in search of the happiest places, greatly appeals to me. Usually I read the travel diaries and accounts of younger people like myself, or the adventure stories like ‘The Backpacker’. So this one was a refreshing change from those.
First, a little about the author. As a radio journalist, he is blessed with one of those minds that causes him to analyse and critique things that the ordinary person wouldn’t normally consider. I have read reviews of him veering to the side of pessimism, though this being the only book I have read by Weiner, I cannot comment on that. He is, however, a self-confessed grumpy soul, the full title of the book being ‘The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World’, so perhaps those reviews have some truth in them.
Back to the book itself. This book will make even the most chilled out of readers question themselves, and the most important question you will ask yourself is:
Am I truly happy?
Followed closely by:
What is happiness?
Weiner uses not only his experiences in this book to attempt to find these answers. He also draws on the expertise of many people who make a living analysing happiness – scientists, politicians, geographers, religion, spiritual beings, myths, legends…all drawn together in this clever book to reconsider what being happy is all about.
Is happiness about the country in which you live?
Is happiness being strictly governed to keep us safe?
Is it having riches and wealth to do with what you please?
Does religion make a person happier?
Or is it leading a simpler life and having low expectation about the future?
Weiner travels around the world in his epic hunt for happiness – travelling from his home in Miami to the Netherlands, Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, Moldova, Thailand, the UK, India, and finally back to the USA. Each country has its own version of happiness to tell (aside from the extremely unhappy Moldova) and its own reasons and answers to these questions. As we journey beside him, we meet interesting people from all walks of life and encounter some fascinating places. My personal favourite chapter was Bhutan, where life is about the simple things. There are some humorous tales woven into the account, and I was fascinated by all the places he visited.
If I was to display one criticism it would be that, though Weiner never expressed the aim of getting a representative account from each country, I would say that visiting just one city or town in some of those countries leaves the reader without a fair representation of that nation. Being from the UK, I was disappointed when I read the UK chapter, where he visited only Slough, one of the unhappiest towns in the country. Though I know he had his reasons, it would have been interesting to read his take on other towns too. The same therefore goes to some of the other places he visited.
Saying that, I found this a highly entertaining and very interesting read. Each place has its own tale to tell and I loved how he brought it all into his conclusion at the end. A great book that I would recommend to anyone interested in travel, or the study of happiness.