This book combines travel writing with pop science discussion of what makes people happy (or unhappy.) Weiner travels to ten countries in pursuit of happiness, and reflects upon the cultural components of bliss.
Some of the countries, like Switzerland and Iceland, rank among the world’s happiest in international surveys. Some of the countries, such as Qatar and America, have every reason to be happy, but aren’t necessarily as blissful as the rest of the world would expect. Some of them, like India and Thailand, have good reason to be unhappy, and yet they manage to be global exemplars of happiness [at least within certain domains.]
Then there are a few nations that have unique relationships to happiness. Bhutan has a national policy on happiness [plus it’s a Buddhist country, and Buddhism probably offers the most skillful explanation of what it takes to be happy of any world religion.] Moldova provides a counterweight as it’s one of the least happy countries in the world. Weiner visits the Netherlands in part because one of the biggest academic centers studying happiness is located in Rotterdam, but it also offers an opportunity to study whether the country’s unbridled hedonism (drugs and prostitution are legal) correlates to happiness. That leaves Great Britain, a country known for wearing the same happy face as its sad, terrified, and enraged faces.
I’ve been to half of the countries on Weiner’s itinerary, and—of the others—I’ve been to countries that share some—though not all—of the cultural constituents of happiness. (e.g. I haven’t been to Qatar, but I’ve been to the UAE. I haven’t been to Moldova, but I’ve seen somewhat less grim Eastern European states. I haven’t been to Switzerland or Iceland but I’ve been to cold countries in Western Europe. I haven’t been to Bhutan, but I’ve been in areas where Tibetan Buddhism was the dominant cultural feature.) This allowed me to compare my experiences with the author’s, as well as to learn about some of the cultural proclivities that I didn’t understand during my travels. And I did find a lot of common ground with the author, as well as learned a lot.
I found this book to be interesting, readable, and funny. Weiner has a wacky sense of humor that contributes to the light-hearted tone of the book—perfect for the subject. That said, some people may be offended because the author doesn’t pull punches in the effort to build a punchline, and this sometimes comes off as mocking cultures. However, in all cases—even that of Moldova—Weiner does try to show the silver lining within each culture.
The paperback edition I read had no graphics or ancillary matter. There are no citations or referred works (except in text), and the chapters are presented as journalistic essays. The chapters largely stand alone, and so one could read just particular countries of interest. He does refer back to events that happened in earlier chapter or research that related to another country’s cultural proclivities, but not often. The first chapter, on the Netherlands, would be a good one to read first because he describes many of the scientific findings on happiness in that one.
I would recommend this book for anyone interested in what makes some places happier (or sadder) than others.