Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Geography of Bliss

What is happiness? Where can we find it? This book attempts to answer those questions in a pseudo-science pop-culture sort of way. The author voyages off to different parts of the world in the quest for happiness.

First off is the Netherlands. There, he meets with a happiness researcher in Rotterdam. He also samples "Dutch" happiness. The Dutch consistently rank very high on happiness surveys. He attributes that to the relaxed, permissive culture they have.

Switzerland also ranks high in happiness, yet has a culture very different from Holland. There, everything is clean and orderly. The rule of law prevails. Even small details of life may be regulated. However, it has a very localized, direct democracy, so everybody has a say.

Rounding out the Europe trip, he visits Iceland in the dead of winter. The sun hardly comes up during the year. Even during the winter, it never gets hot, only making it up to "not so cold." However, the people are very happy. There are only 1/3 million people there, with most of the people being related. There is also a large safety net, and a freedom to explore and change career. There is also a strong appreciation for the arts. Iceland produces a lot of really bad art, but that is just the fertilizer for the good art that comes. The country also has great respect for its language and historic culture.

The quest also takes him to Asia. Thailand has a relaxed culture where what happens happens. India has a conflicted culture, where everything can be itself and its opposite at the same time. Qatar has come into sudden wealth and attempts to "buy culture" and happiness. The Then there is Moldova. While the people have more than enough money for their needs, it is one of the poorest countries in well-to-do Europe. It has also seen its relative situation deteriorate after the fall of the Soviet Union. It has a mix of Romanian and Moldovan roots, with little strong culture or history of its own.

What do these anecdotes tell us? Money does seem to play a role in happiness, but only a minor one. Up to about $15000 a year, more money equates with more happiness. However, after necessities are met, more money could even reduce happiness. Some people can also be happy with limited money. Expectations seem to be more important than raw wealth. People that are content with what they have are happier than those striving for more. People with strong family ties and a support network are also happier. The rule of law also helps. When people can count on getting the appropriate reward for their action, they are happier than those without. Blissful tropical climates tend not to be as happy as those with warmer climates, possible due to work and keep busy. There is also the matter of being in the proper location. Sometimes transplanting oneself to a different location may increase happiness, but often not for what we expect. (Low cost of living and weather are not as important as a culture that matches one's personality.)

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