Are you happy?
This is Weiner’s default question in his book The Geography of Bliss. Books on happiness abound but this one is unique in that it is geographically pursued and organized. Weiner visits ten countries with varying statistical rankings in the World Database of Happiness. Yes, there is such a database, in the Netherlands. Each country gives Weiner (pronouned “whiner”) multiple pegs on which to hang musings and research about happiness according to the factors for or against happiness in each of his host countries.
Everywhere he went he asked, “Are you happy?” He made appointments with people and met them in coffee shops, visited their homes and places of work to ask that same question. I like the idea of being on a mission to understand something, to have a default question to ask that is of some heft.
He visited Reykjavik, Iceland in winter, defending his timing with the news that in general, people who live in colder climates are happier than people who live in warmer climates. I liked this chapter the best and made a mental note of the fact that Icelandic Air allows free multi-day layovers in Reykjavik on their transtlantic flights. Reading about this culture’s appreciation for mystery and imagination, language and beauty reminded me to listen to more Sigur Ros, an Icelandic band one of my son’s introduced me to.
I really enjoyed the book. Weiner has an easy-breezy style of merging narrative, research, and reflection in one steady stream that is fun to read and before you’ve read too far you realize you’ve learned a thing or two. By the book’s end, you can’t help but look at your own geography and start to figure its bliss factors, pro or con. Minneapolis certainly has the cold factor in its favor.