The Geography of Bliss
The Geography of Bliss is a tough book to nail down. It defies categorization. I like to think of it as a philosophical humorous travel memoir. It is all of those things, and more.
For years, as a foreign correspondent for National Public Radio, I covered a multitude of catastrophes, natural and man-made. But for The Geography of Bliss, I decided to tell the other side of the story by visiting some of the world’s most contented places.
Using the ancient philosophers and the much more recent “science of happiness” as my guide, I travel the world in search of the happiest places and what we can learn from them. As I make my way from Iceland (one of the world’s happiest countries) to Bhutan (where the king has made Gross National Happiness a national priority) to Moldova (not a happy place), I call upon the collective wisdom of “the self-help industrial complex” to help navigate the path to contentment.
I travel to Switzerland, where I discover the hidden virtues of boredom; to the tiny-and extremely wealthy-Persian Gulf nation of Qatar, where the relationship between money and happiness is laid bare; to India, where Westerners seek their bliss at the feet of gurus; to Thailand, where not thinking is a way of life; to a small town outside London where happiness experts attempt to “change the psychological climate.” I am no dispassionate observer. In my quest for the world’s happiest places, I eat rotten Icelandic shark, smoke Moroccan hashish and intervene to save (almost) an insect in distress.
Is this a travel book? Yes, but not a typical one. While I do log thousands of miles in researching the book, The Geography of Bliss is really a travelogue of ideas. I roam the world in search of answers to the pressing questions of our time: What are the essential ingredients for the good life? Why are some places happier than others? How are we shaped by our surroundings? Why can’t airlines serve a decent meal?
Is this a self-help book? Perhaps, but not like any you’ve read before. I offer no simple bromides here. No chicken soup. You will find no easy answers in these pages. You will, however, find much to chew on and, perhaps, some unexpected inspiration. We Americans, it turns out, have no monopoly on the pursuit of happiness. There is wisdom to be found in the least likely of places.
Place. That is what The Geography of Bliss is about. How place—in every aspect of the word—shapes us, defines us. Change your place, I believe, and you can change your life.