Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Geography of Bliss


I was given this book on loan from a friend quite awhile ago, and I just got around to reading it. The Geography of Bliss; One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner was surprisingly funny and very entertaining. I think many of the observations he made about happiness were things that I sort of already knew, but, that being said, the fact that he observed happiness around the world made me think about how culture affects happiness. He notes that America has happiness written into it's founding documents, and yet, we do not rank all that high on the list of happy countries (I think we come in 23rd). Why is that? I would venture a guess that greed has a lot to do with it. Eric makes a point of saying that envy leads to unhappiness. I think Americans spend a lot of time being envious of people who have more than them, thus the resulting unhappiness. In the end, the author questions whether happiness is the ultimate state to achieve. I think happiness is achieved by devoting time to other emotions - love being one of them. And really, over-thinking your own happiness may just lead to unhappiness. Below are a few quotes that I thought were particularly outstanding:

"In 1984, a psychologist named Roger Ulrich studied patients recuperating from gallbladder surgery at a Pennsylvania hospital. Some patients were assigned to a room overlooking a small strand of deciduous trees. Others were assigned to rooms that overlooked a brick wall. Ulrich describes the results: 'Patients with the natural window view had shorter post-operative hospital stays, had fewer negative comments in nurses' notes . . . and tended to have lower scores for minor post-surgical complications . . .'
    The implications of this obscure study are enormous. Proximity to nature doesn't just give us a warm, fuzzy feeling. It affects our physiology in real, measurable ways. It's not a giant leap to conclude that proximity to nature makes us happier."

"But what exactly is Gross National Happiness? What does it look like? The best explanation I heard came from a potbellied Bhutanese hotel owner . . . 'means knowing your limitations; knowing how much is enough.' Free-market economics has brought much good to the world, but it goes mute when the concept of "enough" is raised. As the renegade economist E.F. Schumacher put it: 'There are poor societies which have too little. But where is the rich society that says 'Halt! We have enough!' There is none."

"Adventure, in the good sense of the word, is a modern concept. For most of history, adventure was something inflicted upon you, not something you sought out and certainly not something you paid for. That old Chinese saying 'May you live in interesting times' was actually meant as a curse."
(This last quote I just love because to me adventure can contribute to happiness! Too bad it wasn't always that way . . . )








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