In Reviews, Travel Gifts

The Geography of Bliss
Author: Eric Weiner

Big Picture

Where is the happiest place on earth? Is it Switzerland? Netherlands? Qatar? India? Iceland? America? or somewhere else entirely? That is the question, the author, a former NPR journalist sets out to answer. A total of ten countries sum up this book and the stories are intriguing, witty, inspiring and above all, thought provoking. Part investigation – part hilarious anecdotes, this book is a must read for anyone who loves to wander.

Here are the chapter headings, certainly arouses enough curiosity to make you read beyond.

The Netherlands: Happiness is a number

Switzerland: Happiness is boredom

Bhutan: Happiness is a policy

Qatar: Happiness is a winning lottery ticket

Iceland: Happiness is failure

Moldova: Happiness is somewhere else

Thailand: Happiness is not thinking

Great Britain: Happiness is a work in progress

India: Happiness is a contradiction

United States: Happiness is home

Note that none of the South American countries are on this list, curious, no?

Big Takeaway

Happiness is subjective and if you want to know which country is the happiest in the world, then it depends entirely on what you consider worth being happy about. India is happy being a land of contradiction as much as Switzerland is happy being the land of ultimate democracy and Qatar is for being one of the richest nations in the world. Therefore, happiness depends on what YOU define as happy, and that definition changes several times during the course of one’s lifespan.

Saadia spent several years reading this book, yes, years, because she would only read one country (chapter) at a time and she would only indulge in the book when she was on travel, and not just any travel, but specifically a relaxation trip.


Because each country was so fascinating and vastly different from the one before (and coincidentally from the one after), that she wanted to give them her undivided attention, not just while reading, but during the aftermath of reflecting on it. It gave her such joy to read this at an incredibly slow pace. There was something magical about the book that she just did not want to reach the end in a hurry. So glad to have taken her time with it; she would do it again!


Favorite Quotes

“The ability to choose where we live is, in the scheme of human history, a very recent phenomenon. Over the centuries, most people grew where they were planted. It took some catastrophe–flood or famine or the marauding hordes of Mongols who moved in next door (there goes the neighborhood!)–to prompt a relocation. With the exception of the rich, who frankly have always been a bit unstable, people didn’t move for kicks. Adventure, in the good sense of the world, is a more modern concept. For most of history, adventure was something inflicted upon you, not something you sought out and certainly not something you paid for. The old Chinese saying, “May you live in interesting times” was actually meant as a curse.”

“Americans work longer hours and commute greater distances than virtually any other country in the world. Commuting, in particular, has been found to be detrimental to our happiness, as well as our physical health. Every minute spent on the road is one less minute that we can spend with family and friends – – the kind of activities, in other words, that make us happy.”

“…I desperately needed to answer: Why do so many presumably same westerners leave their wealthy, functional nations behind and travel to a poor and dysfunctional nation in search of bliss?”

“It’s possible to hold two contradictory thoughts at the same time and, crucially, to do so without your head exploding. Indians do it all the time.”

“I’m heading to a country where the trains run on time, the streets are clean, and tolerance, like everything else, is doled out carefully, in moderation. I am heading to Switzerland.”

“The Swiss hate to talk about money…But the Swiss know that money, more than anything else, tiggers envy. The American way is: If you’ve got it, flaunt it. The Swiss way is: If you’ve got it, hide it. One Swiss person told me, ‘You don’t dress or act like you’re rich.  Of course, you might have a four-thousand-dollar espresso machine in your apartment.'”

“For me, a place unvisited is like unrequited love. A dull ache that–try as you might to think it away, to convince yourself that she really wasn’t the right country for you–just won’t leave you in peace.”

“Then again, wonderful, unexpected things sometimes bloom in the desert. Two of the world’s great religions –Islam and Judaism–took root in the desert.”

“There are no strangers in Iceland. People are constantly running into friends and acquaintances. It’s not unusual for people to show up thirty minutes late for work because en route they encountered a parade of friends. This is a perfectly valid excuse, by the way, for being late.”

“Many countries are pooper than Moldova yet happier. Nigeria, for instance, or Bangladesh. The problem is that Moldovans don’t compare themselves to Nigerians or Bangladeshis. They compare themselves to Italians and Germans. Moldova is the poor man in a rich neighborhood, never a happy position to be in.”

“It’s possible, indeed desirable, to give 100 perfect effort to an activity and yet have absolutely no stake in the results.”


If you love to travel, you have to read this book. It is an easy read, so do not let her unusually abnormal pace of reading this book alarm you. The book is incredibly fascinating. It is well written, humorous and eye opening. She has learned at least one new thing about every country mentioned in the book, no matter how big or small, and that has made all the difference. Hope you enjoy the book as much as Saadia did.

Spirited Navigators Rating:  ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Until the next book, Happy Reading!

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