Sunday, May 9, 2010

Book: The Geography of Bliss

Last year’s Book Lover’s page-a-day calendar wasn’t too exciting, but this year’s seems to have a lot of intriguing titles. I’ve begun to amass not only piles of physical books to be read, but now I have a pile of calendar pages scattered about. Some may never see themselves into my hands.

One that I recently finished was The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner (2008). I must admit that when I first began the book, the introduction had me, but once I got to chapter one: “The Netherlands: Happiness Is a Number,” I almost stopped reading. Was it out of boredom, was I not relating? I’m not sure. After setting the book aside for a few days, I decided to come back to it again, give it another go. I’m glad I did. Weiner’s style had me laughing through the book and I found that he held my attention and had interesting observations.

The countries he visited and reported on were The Netherlands, Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, Moldova, Thailand, Great Britain, India, and America. The subtitles to each chapter alone gave me a laugh or a smile. You can purchase or search inside the book at Amazon.

Book: The Geography of Bliss

The chapter that resonated with me most was the one on Iceland where “Happiness is Failure.” It made an impression on me for several reasons:

-The relationship Icelanders have with their language and the joy they get from it;

-Everyone seems to be an artist of some kind;

-Weiner observed that there did not seem to be much envy in Iceland.

-On Failure. In a conversation with an interesting Icelander, Larus had this to say: “Failure doesn’t carry a stigma in Iceland. In fact, in a way, we admire failures” (pg. 163). Of course, Weiner’s reaction was such that anyone would share. What!? And to answer his confusion, Larus, replied, “Let me put it this way. We like people who fail if they fail with the best intentions. Maybe they failed because they weren’t ruthless enough, for instance” (pg. 163). This alone is a great bit of wisdom to reflect upon, for how many times do we find ourselves afraid to do something because of our fear to fail? It’s so valuable to be able to see how other people from different cultures deal with common issues, with being human.

The Geography of Bliss left me with a lot to contemplate, other views to consider. It was insightful and fun to go along for the ride with Weiner on his quest to explore his nagging question.


It’s ironic that I wasn’t in the right “place” when I first started the book and all it took was coming back with a new day’s mindset, finding myself loving the “place(s)” that I then found myself traveling into.


keiko amano said...


The narrator of the book sounds great. And now, I'm interested in Iceland. I wonder what language they speak. Danish?

But the best part of this blog is your end note.

Rebb said...

I thought you'd like this chapter, Keiko. They speak the Icelandic language, which has its roots in Old Norse--The Vikings. The author also notes that everyone also speaks English.

another interesting tidbit from Iceland chapter:

-He talks about how "Icelanders insist on inventing purely Icelandic words for English things.

--Icelandic word for television is sjonvarp, which translates literally to "sight caster."

--Word for computer: tolva translates to "prophet of numbers."

Above from pg. 155 –156 “Geography of Bliss” (Weiner).

If you get a chance and find the book in your library, you will delight in some of the other language bits in the Iceland chapter. You'll love it. You can't find what he wrote about, quite the way he reports it on the web. It was a very personal experience that got to the core of these wonderful people. And the rest of the book is great too.

Ah, yes, my end note. It's so funny how these little lights go on and off. I was finished writing and then it bopped me on the head. :)

Rebb said...


One note to the translation bit. He also gave an example of how in Japan, a personal computer becomes "persu-con" by borrowing the English word. Fascinating. Does that sound, right, Keiko? I imagine there may also be variations.

Luciana said...

Looks and sounds like a very interesting book, Rebbs. I followed the link and looked inside at Amazon. Like Keiko, I´m also interested in Iceland, now :-)

keiko amano said...


Yes, personal computer becomes "pasocon" in Japanese. It's good and bad. It's good because it's short, but those words have been multiplying.

About "sight caster" and "prophet of numbers," I think the descendants of Vikings are quite artists. Good for them to insist on their meaningful words. I'd like to join in a conversation with them. There are many English inventions, so, I'll be amused to hear all the names. I wonder who decides on those words. I bet he or she has great times.

Rebb said...


I can see how that would get complicated with lots of short words multiplying.

Yes, they do seem quite artistic. That would be interesting to listen in on that conversation.

Lu, I’m glad you had a look inside the book at Amazon. It’s a fun book :)

Vincent said...

I was most interested in the idea of Happiness is Failure. But in the context of Iceland it reminded me of the failure of its banks, which has resulted in widespread misery outside its borders. The other misery outside its borders has been due to volcanic ash, but the Icelanders cannot prevent that.

I'm a believer in failure as a learning method, and consequently suspicious of the persistent American worship of success for its own sake.

I've been an expert at failure in my own life, but my experience, like that of Iceland in banking, illustrates that one's failures ought to be contained, to avoid the contagion spreading.

On the book-lover front, I'm glad you have lots of books to read. I find mine in charity shops, especially Oxfam and its shelves of Classics and Collectibles (meaning random hardbacks from nineteen-fifties and earlier, where you can find occasional gems). But now I am reading Money by Martin Amis: the "suicide note" of an overweight English anti-hero in New York, cantankerous, heavy-drinking and in poor health. I find it very uplifting!

Rebb said...

Vincent, I was actually hesitant in posting this book at this time because of the misery regarding the volcano, but I decided it would be ok.

Yes, there is much that can be appreciated and learned from failure. You bring up a good point of the need to contain failures, at least with respect to those experiences we have some control over, as you point out. I would like to see more responsibility and proactive planning in the world. It seems people/governments try to take too many shortcuts, and in the end, these shortcuts always come back to bite hard. I agree, I feel that American’s place too much emphasis on success, or perhaps it's the way they view it—empty, like a road to nowhere. With all due respect to the country I live in, I’ve always viewed it as a sort-of teenager with respect to all the other countries. Then again, when I see news clippings of folks in parliament having fist fights, I just shake my head, and think, goodness, can’t people just stick to talking about issues.

I actually find lots of books in charity shops and libraries. This book I actually checked out from the library. I always try the library first. But yesterday, I got a bug and actually walked to Barnes and Noble and purchased Don Quixote. I’ve been wanting to read it for a long time and hope to make a dent in it. It’s difficult with all the other books that call to me and are spread around. It sounds like you have great places to find books over there.

Interesting that you find the book you are currently reading uplifting! It might just depress me.

Vincent said...

"Interesting that you find the book you are currently reading uplifting! It might just depress me."

Thanks Rebb! I wondered whether "uplifting" was the right word, but now you have inspired me to look into the matter further. See this post, and the acknowledgement at the end.