Subtitled One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World, Eric Weiner's delightful and insightful book offered observations, quite a bit of information, a few surprises and a dose of wry wit.
Weiner (whose name, ironically, is pronounced "whiner"), traveled to a number of countries to determine what makes people happy. He was armed with a database from the Netherlands that calculated what countries had the highest happiness index — and the lowest. Weiner takes us to both by traveling to Iceland, Thailand, Movdova, India, Bhutan, Quatar, England and a few other places suggested by their placement in the aforementioned database.
I started tabbing the book mercilessly right around Bhutan, and rightfully so. It's not like Weiner is a guru (after you read the book you'll laugh at that), but he is insightful. He asks the right questions, and he receives some of the most interesting answers. He stands as an outsider on every culture, including his own. (Strange, and oddly enviable, how foreign correspondents seem to be able to do that.)
I enjoyed every trip he took and I was thrilled to meet the people to whom he introduced us. I wanted to live in Iceland and Bhutan, maybe even Thailand — and Moldova had a strange draw for me (which should concern me, the more I think about it). Weiner's observations in this book helped me in many ways with a number of people I already know; learning about the Indian or Thai mindset assisted me in understanding others and made a difference in my day-to-day encounters.
In the end, it was a very enlightening book. As the reader continues to discover what makes other people happy, it makes that reader ask herself or himself the same question. "Handbags" is a valid answer, as is "connectedness," "muddle of thought" and "money." (The last one — well, read the book. You'd be surprised. No, really — Weiner doesn't give us pat answers on anything, especially not that dynamite keg.)
Weiner isn't neither pat nor glib. He is, however, concise, and he offers his explanations with a warmth for his readers. He writes with authority, and he blends in the voices of experts with those of the ordinary folk with whom he speaks.
If I could summarize my understanding of happiness in a fortune cookie — or, in modern times, a tweet — it would be this: Happiness is found in the people around us. Lose that connection and you lose much more than just touch. You lose a chance at happiness.
But I'll let you read Weiner's book yourself and you can tell me what you think it all means.