The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

The Geography of Bliss

RATING: 10/10…READ: August 11, 2011

A search for happiness around the globe. Few books have made me question my entire outlook on life like this one. Being an American, you may find after reading this book, your definition of “happiness” no longer suits you.


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The Big Idea: The two common factors across all cultures for happiness was strong relationships and gratitude. Aside from this, happiness factors depended highly on the context of the culture.


This axiom of the self-help industrial complex is so deeply ingrained as to be self-evident. There’s only one problem. It’s not true. Happiness is not inside of us but out there. Or, to be more precise, the line between out there and in here is not as sharply defined as we think.

Where we are is vital to who we are, not only in physical environment, but culture as well.

“The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.” [Eric Hoffer]

The whole point of the European Café: to linger excessively and utterly without guilt.

Instead of judging society by its system, why not judge it by its results? Were its citizens happy?

Newscasters known instinctively what the best way to get to people’s ears to perk up with these five words: “A new study has found.”

“Happiness is a virtuous activity of the soul or “A virtuous life, is a happy life.”

Healthy people are happier than unhealthy ones; or is it that happy people tend to be healthier? Married people are happy; or maybe happy people are more likely to get married? It’s tough to say. Reverse causality is the hobgoblin that makes mischief in many a research project.

All cultures value happiness, but not to the same degree. East Asian countries tend to emphasize harmony and fulfilling societal obligations rather than individual contentment; perhaps not coincidentally, these countries also report lower levels of happiness, what’s been called the East Asian Happiness Gap.

Here is what a Polish citizen living in the United States told a writer about Americans: “When Americans say it was great, I know it was good. When they say it was good, I know it was okay. When they say it was okay, I know it was bad.

Income distribution does not predict happiness. Countries with wide gaps between rich and poor are no less happy than countries where the wealth is distributed more equally. Sometimes, they are happier. –Veenhoven

“Inequality is a big business here in the sociology department. Entire careers have been built on it.”


To speak out would be considered insulting, since it assumes ignorance on the part of the other person.

She [a Swiss woman] finds aspects of life here endearing—the civil-mindedness, for instance. They way you’ll be writing the bus, and there will be this teenage boy with a Mohawk and combat boots, looking like trouble, who will politely offer his seat to an older woman. “In New York, nobody would move.”

Switzerland –cleanliness a source of happiness

There are no potholes on Swiss roads. Everything works. Switzerland is a highly functional society, and while that may not be a source of joy or even happiness, it eliminates a lot of the reasons to be unhappy.

Our attitude is don’t shine the spotlight too brightly on yourself or you might get shot.

Swiss hate talking about money.

In America the worst thing you can be is a loser. In Switzerland the worst thing you can be is a flashy winner.

A Swiss would never describe something as awesome or super, but only not bad.

The Swiss are a humorless, uptight nation. Everything works, usually, and envy is squelched, but at a cost: You’re always being watched, monitored, judged. Where’s the bliss? “It’s simple,” says Dieter. “Nature. We Swiss have a very deep connection to nature.”

Biophilia hypothesis: the more connected to nature, the happier we are

-Each year, more people visit zoos than attend all sporting events combined.

Every country has a cocktail party question: In the United States: “What do you do?” In Britain it is, “What school did you attend?” In Switzerland it is, “Where are you from?” That is all you need to know about someone.

You can’t feel properly engaged if you don’t trust the people you engage with on a regular basis. Engagement breeds trust; trust supports engagement. It’s a two-way flow; both parts are critical.

Of all the factors that affect crime rate for a given area, the one that made the biggest difference was not the number of police patrols or anything like that, but, rather, how many people you know within a fifteen-minute walk of your house.

A generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men, of men unduly divorced from the slow process of nature, of men in whom every vital impulse slowly withers as though they were cut flowers in a vase. [Bertrand Russell]

Maybe happiness is this: not feeling like you should be elsewhere, doing something else, being someone else. Maybe the current conditions in Switzerland…make it easier to ‘be’ and therefore ‘be happy.’

Choice translates into happiness only when choice is about something that matters. Voting maters. Ice cream matters, too, but fifty flavors of it do not.

Change the system one boring procedure at a time. It required patience and a high tolerance for boredom. The Swiss process both in spades.


Bhutan is the only country in the world with a dress code for men.

Perhaps love and attention are really the same thing. One can’t exist without the other.

Attention is the universal currency of well being or in other words, attentive people are happy people.

When the last tree is cut, when the last river is emptied, when the last fish is caught, only then will Man realize that he can not eat money.

Bhutan’s low crime rate—murder is almost unheard of—contributes to the overall happiness here.

The government provides free health care and education to all of its citizens. There are more monks than soldiers. The army produces most of Bhutan’s liquor.

The way Karma Ura sees it, a government is like a pilot guiding an airplane. In bad weather, it must rely on its instruments to navigate. But what if the instruments are faulty? The plane will certainly veer off course, even though the pilot is manipulating the controls properly.

–That, he says, is the state of the world today, with its dependence on gross national product as the only real measure of a nation’s progress. “Take education, we are hooked on measuring enrollment, but we don’t look at the content. Or consider a nation like Japan. People live a long time, but what is the quality of life past age sixty?”

–We measure what is easiest to measure, not what really matters to most people’s lives.

–I have achieved happiness because I don’t have unrealistic expectations.

–I have no such mountains to scale; basically, I find that living itself is a struggle, and if I’m satisfied, if I have done just that, lived well, in the evening I sigh and say, ‘It was okay.’

–Even if you have achieved great things, it is sort of theater playing in your mind. You think it so important, but actually you have not made such a difference to anyone’s life.

–Our greatest achievements and our greatest failures are equally insignificant. We like to think we really made a difference. Okay, in this week’s scale it may have been interesting. Take another forty years, I’m not so sure. Take three generations, and you will be forgotten without a trace.

–You need to think about death for five minutes every day. It is this thing, this fear of death, this fear of dying before we have accomplished what we want or seen our children grow. This is what is troubling you.

We can not judge by action, only my motivation. –Rinpoche

Bhutan do things that don’t make economic sense. Like forsaking millions of dollars in tourist revenue or refusing to sell valuable timber. The Bhutanese, poor as they are, do not bow to the gods of efficiency and productivity.

In America, few people are happy, but everyone talks about happiness constantly. In Bhutan, most people are happy, but no one talks about it. This is a land devoid of introspection, bereft of self-help books, and woefully lacking in existential angst. There is no Bhutanese Dr. Phil.

If you want proof, you will never be enlightened. [in relation to proving happiness]

Maybe Plato was wrong. Maybe it is the examined life that is not worth living. Or, to put it another way, “Ask yourself if you are happy and you cease to be so” [Stuart Mill]

“We don’t believe in this Robinson Crusoe happiness. All happiness is relational.”

What do the following events have in common? The war in Iraq. The Exxon Valdez oil spill. The rise in America’s prison population. The answer: They all contribute to our nation’s gross national product, or what’s now referred to as gross domestic product, or GDP, and therefore all are considered “good,” at least in the dismal eyes of economists.

GDP is simply the sum of all goods and services a nation produces over a given time. The sale of an assault rifle and the sale of an antibiotic both contribute equally to the national tally (assuming the sales price is the same).

Money buys happiness up to a point. That point is surprisingly low: about $15,000 a year. After that, the link between economic growth and happiness evaporates.

The richer the society, the more difficult it becomes to do worthwhile things without immediate payoff. [E.F. Schumacher]

“What do lamas do?” She asks. “They devote themselves, madam, to contemplation and the pursuit of wisdom.”

-“But that isn’t doing anything.” “Then, madam, they do nothing.”

You see everything is a dream. Nothing is real. You will realize that one day. Then he laughs and returns to his quiet chanting.

If we no longer must compromise on the easy stuff, like mattresses, then what about the truly important issues? Compromise is a skill, and like all skills it atrophies from lack of use.

Bhutanese who study abroad, 90 percent return to Bhutan, forsaking western-style incomes for life in Bhutan.

Happiness is relationships, and people in the west think money is needed for relationships. But it’s not. It comes down to trustworthiness.

Several studies, in fact, have found that trust—more than income or even health—is the biggest factor in determining our happiness.

Okay is not bliss, or even happiness. But Okay is a start, and for that I am grateful.


Qataris possess a strange mix of arrogance and insecurity. What they crave, most of all, is validation. Qatar is using money to accomplish this goal.

The servants—every Qatari has at least one—do the shopping, and, being servants, their convenience isn’t anyone’s concern.

The entire nation of Qatar is like a good airport terminal: pleasantly air-conditioned, with lots of shopping, a wide selection of food, and people from around the world.

In many Asian cultures, what matters is not the age of the physical structure but the spirit of the place. Temples in Japan are routinely destroyed and rebuilt, yet people still consider them as old as the day they were first built.

“Such a man feels himself a citizen of the universe, enjoying freely the spectacle that it offers and the joy that it affords, untroubled by the thoughts of death because he feels himself not really separated from those who will come after him. It is in such a profound instinctive union with the stream of life that the greatest joy is to be found.” [Bertrand Russell]

It reminds me of Jonas Salk, investor of the polio vaccine, said when asked what the main aim of his life had been: “To be a good ancestor.”

If we view out lives as merely the seventy or eighty years (if we’re lucky) we putter about on this planet, then they are indeed insignificant. But if, as that Buddhist scholar put it, “our parents are infinite,” then maybe we are, too.

“Tribe” is just another word for family—a large, extended family.

Tribal values are like family values. Something to rally around during good times and bemoan the loss of during difficult times. And just as families distrust outsiders—don’t talk to strangers, our parents warned us—so, too, tribes are wary of outsiders. You’re either a member of the tribe or you’re not. There’s no in-between.

Social scientists estimate that about 70 percent of our happiness stems from our relationships, both quantity and quality, with friends, family coworkers, and neighbors. During life’s difficult patches, camaraderie blunts our misery; during the good times, it boosts our happiness.

So the greatest source of happiness is other people—and what does money do? It isolates us from other people. It enables us to build walls, literal and figurative, around ourselves. We move from a teeming college dorm to an apartment to a house and, if we’re really wealthy, to an estate. We think we’re moving up, but really we’re walling off ourselves.

Money is 100 percent potential. You can build a future with money but not a past.

Gasoline sells for 50 cents a gallon. Water in Qatar is free, so is electricity and health care and education. The government even pays a small salary to Qatari college students. When a Qatari man gets married, the government gives him a plot of land to build a house, an interest-free mortgage, and, to boot, a monthly allowance of roughly seven thousand dollars. –No income tax. No Sales tax. Nothing.

Qataris have neither taxation nor representation, and that’s not a happy thing.

Happiness, bliss, is in the hands of Allah, not man. If we are happy, it is God’s will and, likewise, if we are miserable it is also God’s will.

Happiness, Aristotle believed, meant not only feeling good but doing good. Thus, the pedophile and the suicide bomber only thought they were happy. In fact, they were not happy at all.

Perhaps it is not the belief in God that makes us happier but belief in something, anything.

Islam, like other religions, maintains that if you want to be happy, put great effort into living a virtuous life and expect nothing, absolutely nothing. Divorce your actions from their results, and happiness will flow like oil.

“Religion is like a knife. If you use it the wrong way you can cut yourself.”

In1978, psychologist Philip Brickman studied two groups of people. One group had just won the lottery and was now wealthy. Another group has been in accidents and was not paralyzed. Not surprisingly, shortly after these events, the lottery winners reported increased happiness, while the accident victims were less happy. But as Brickman tracked the groups, something wholly unexpected happened. The lottery winners soon returned to the same level of happiness levels as before they struck it rich. The paralyzed accident victims, meanwhile, rebounded to happiness levels only slightly lower than before their accident.

Studies have found that we never really get used to loud noises, despite prolonged exposure. Another study found that women who get breast implants never tire of the enjoyment it brings them, and presumably their companions feel the same.

The English word “happiness” comes from the old Norse word “hap,” or luck.

Neuroscientists have discovered that the parts of the brain that control wanting and the parts that control liking are separate. i.e. cigarettes.

We assume that our intense feelings of wanting something—a new car, winning the lottery—means that, once obtained, these things will make us happy. But that is a connection that, neurologically speaking, does not exist. We are disappointed but don’t learn from our disappointment because our software is flawed. It’s not faulty data but faulty programming that is holding us back, and that is much harder to rectify.

As the price of oil rises, the moves toward democracy decline.

Several studies have found that unemployed people in Europe are significantly less happy than people with jobs, even though the laid-off workers still receive the equivalent of a full salary, thanks to the generous welfare system.

In fact, researchers have found that people who are too busy are happier than those who are not busy enough.

Qataris are only 20 percent of Qatar—if the foreigners left, their system would collapse.

“You need enough money to have your dignity. Beyond that, it won’t make you happy.”

Comfort is best when interspersed with moments of great discomfort.

When you worship Ambition, there is no Sabbath, no day of rest. Every day, you rise early and kneel before the God Ambition, facing the direction of your PC. You pray alone, always alone, even though others may be present. Ambition is a vengeful God. He will smite those who fail to worship faithfully, but that is nothing compared to what He has in store for the faithful. They suffer the worst fate of all. For it is only when they are old and tired, entombed in the corner office, that the realization hits like a Biblical thunderclap. The God Ambition is a false God and always has been.


Colder temperatures produce happier people than warm, tropical ones. In warm places, life is too easy; your next meal simply falls from a coconut tree. Cooperation is optional. In cold climates, everyone must work together, or everyone dies. Together.

Since booze is so expensive, Icelanders figure if you’re not getting drunk you’re wasting your money.

“Better to go barefoot than without a book,” the Icelandic saying goes.

High unemployment, research has found, reduces overall happiness much more than high inflation. The specter of losing one’s job spreads through a nation like a ripple across a pond.

Icelanders possess a deep love for the game of chess, an abiding loyalty to their friends, an obsession with getting on the map, and a high tolerance for idiosyncrasy.

“Happiness is an ideal not of reason but of imagination.”

Having multiple identities (though not multiple personalities) is, he believes, conducive to happiness. This runs counter to the prevailing belief in the United States and other western nations, where specialization is considered the highest good.

Academics, doctors, and other professionals spend lifetimes learning more about less and less. In Iceland, people learn more and more about more and more.

Failure doesn’t carry a stigma in Iceland. In fact, in a way, we admire failures.

We like people who fail if they fail with the best intentions. Maybe they failed because they weren’t ruthless enough, for instance.

We Americans like to think that we, too, embrace failure, and it’s true, up to a point. We love a good failure story as long as it ends with a success.

–The entrepreneur who failed half a dozen times before hitting the jackpot with a brilliant idea. The bestselling author whose manuscript was rejected a dozen times. In these stories, failure serves merely to sweeten the taste of success. It’s the appetizer. For Icelanders, though, failure is the main course.

“It is not the skills we actually have that determine how we feel but the ones we think we have.” [Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi]

Martin Seligman, founder of the positive-psychology movement, discovered that happy people remembered more good events in their lives than actually occurred.

Depressed people remembered the past accurately.

“Know thyself” may not be the best advice after all. A pinch of self-delusion, it turns out, is an important ingredient in the happiness recipe.

The crap is fertilizer. It allows the good stuff to grow. You can’t have one without the other.

Now, to be sure, you don’t want to see crap framed in an art gallery, any more than you want to see a pound of fertilizer in the produce section of your local grocery store. But still, crap is important.

It’s not what we believe that makes us happy but the act of believing. In anything.

It is best for a man to be middle-wise, not over cunning and clever. The learned man whose lore is deep is seldom happy at heart.

The attitude that no matter what, no matter how bleak life seems, things will always work out.

Usually, hedonic refugees have an epiphany, a moment of great clarity when they realize, beyond a doubt, that they were born in the wrong country.

Collectivist cultures, like Japan and other Confucian nations, value social harmony more than any one person’s happiness. Individualistic cultures, like the United States, value personal satisfaction more than communal harmony.

–That’s why the Japanese have a well-known expression: “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” In America, the nail that sticks out gets a promotion or a shot at American Idol.

How we pursue the goal of happiness matters at least as much, perhaps more, than the goal itself. They are, in fact, one and the same, means and ends. A virtuous life necessarily leads to a happy life.

Happiness is a choice. Not an easy choice, not always a desirable one, but a choice nonetheless.


Hotels are designed to keep you and the country you’re visiting at a comfortable distance.

In Moldova the relationship between host and guest is reversed. It is the guest’s obligation to make the host feel at ease.

The old saw about the glass being half full or half empty is dead wrong. What really matters is whether water is flowing into or out of the glass.

Moldova is the poor man in a rich neighborhood.

It’s not that democracy makes people happy but rather that happy people are much more likely to establish a democracy.

We [Moldovans] are substituting real values with money values.

Not my problem. A country with so many problems yet nobody’s problem.

Simply by counting the acts of kindness for one week, people become happier and more grateful.

Moldovans derive more pleasure from their neighbor’s failure than their own success.

Joseph Epstein, in his book on envy, described the entire advertising industry as “a vast and intricate envy-producing machine.”

Moldovans unhappiness breeds mistrust, which breeds more unhappiness, which leads to more mistrust.

Lose your culture, you lose your bearings, and hedonistic adaptation no longer exists—give something enough time and you’ll adapt.

Moldova does not exist, and existence is, in my book, a prerequisite for happiness. We need a solid identify—ethnic, national, linguistic, culinary, whatever—in order to feel good about ourselves.

–We may not use these identities every day, but they’re always there, like money in the bank, something to fall back on during hard times.

Other people’s problems are our problems. If your neighbor is laid off, you may feel as if you’ve dodged the bullet, buy you haven’t. The bullet hit you as well. You just don’t feel the pain yet.

The quality of society is more important than your place in that society.

Better to be a small fish in a clean pond than a big fish in a polluted lake.


A real smile is in the eyes, the orbicularis oculi muscles that surround each eye.

The Thai smile means more—and less—than the western smile. It is a mask or, more accurately, many masks. The Thai smile can signify happiness but also anger, doubt, anxiety and even grief.

Researchers have found that people, sane people at least, rarely smile when alone. The smile is a social gesture more than a reflection of our inner state, though it can be that too.

I’ve spent most of my life trying to think my way to happiness, and my failure to achieve that goal only proves, in my mind, that I am not a good enough thinker. It never occurred to me that the source of my unhappiness is not flawed thinking but thinking itself.

The Thais are too happy being busy to think about happiness.

Happy people have no reason to think; they live rather than question living.

Only bad music has any meaning. Good music doesn’t point anywhere. It just is.

There are basically three ways to make yourself happier: you can increase the positive affect (good feelings). You can decrease the amount of negative affect (bad feelings). Or you can change the subject.

How can you pick up something new—a new career, a new relationship, a new outlook on life—without first letting go of the old?

The relationship always comes first. It is more important than the problem.

People like to say that Bangkok isn’t the “real Thailand,” just as they say New York is not the real America and Paris is not the real France. I think this is wrong. These cities did not materialize out of nothingness. They grew organically in the soil in which they were planted. They are not an exception to the rule but, rather, the rule on steroids. New York is America, only more so. The same is true of Bangkok.

Why are Thais so happy? Thai people are not serious about anything. We don’t take anything seriously. Whatever it is, we can accept it.

–In the U.S., when you trip over something and fall, no one interferes. It’s as if nothing happened. But Thai people? We laugh and laugh nonstop. We still run over and help, but we’re laughing at the same time.

I think America is one of the most stressed countries in the world. You think you need money to buy happiness. You hire people to do everything, even to mow your lawn. Here, even wealthy people do that themselves. We think it’s fun.

If it’s not fun, it’s not worth doing.

After the Asian tsunami in 2004, which killed thousands of people in Thailand alone, hardly anyone blamed the government. They could have. They could have easily pointed to the lack of a warning system or the slow and chaotic response to the disaster.

–We [Americans] always need someone to blame, someone other than God, that is, since He’s currently not accepting complaints.

–Thais accept what has happened, which is not to say they life what happened or want it to happen again. Of course not. But they take the long view; eternity. If things don’t work out in this life, there is always the next one, and the next one, and so on.

####Great Britain

When someone dies, we don’t call the relatives to offer our sympathies because we’re afraid we might disturb them. We don’t want to be too loud, too American.

“American” is synonymous with pushiness, tactlessness, and puppy-dog earnestness. Americans buy self-help books as if their lives depend on them. Brits, as a rule, do not.

Optimism is sometimes a wonderful thing, but not always. Let’s say you’re on a flight, and there is a problem, an engine has caught fire. Would you want an optimistic pilot at the controls? Perhaps, but what you really want is a wise pilot. Wisdom born from years of experience.

Diversity, that much heralded attribute, does not necessarily make for a happy place. The world’s happiest nations—Iceland, for instance—tend to be ethnically homogeneous.

It’s never a good sign when the vest thing to recommend a place is that it’s near other places. Just ask the residents of New Jersey.

When a Brit opens up, exposes their wounds, where it hurts, this is more valuable, more meaningful, than when an American does it.

The Brits don’t merely enjoy misery, they get off on it.

Veronica figures there are two types of people in the world: Toothpaste people and Toilet Paper people. You can always find a stand-in for toilet paper—paper napkins, for instance. But not toothpaste. Toothpaste, unlike toilet paper, does more than perform a necessary function. It also makes your mouth feel good, makes you feel good.

Instead of trying to make places, or people, happier, perhaps we’d be better off heading the advice of Canadian author Robertson Davies: “ If you are not happy you had better stop worrying about it and see what treasures you can pluck from your own brand of unhappiness.


People who volunteer regularly are, statistically, happier than those who don’t.

I’ve spent much time pondering whether we can measure happiness but not much thought to whether we should measure it.

Just as some people are famous for being famous, gurus are wise for being wise.

Maybe this is how enlightenment happens. Not with a thunderclap or a bolt of lightning but as a steady drip, drip, drip until one day you realize your bucket is full.

Everything in India is true, and its opposite is true also.

These people, the cybercoolies, will burn out by thirty, thirty-five. They will wake up one day and realize that life has passed them by.

Researchers has found that happiness forms a U-shape curve over the course of a lifetime. We’re happiest in youth and old age.

And that is the beauty of life in India—no matter how low you rung, there is always someone beneath you. An infinite ladder.

Americans are so busy. If they’re not busy working, they’re busy relaxing.

Indians may deeply care about their families and circle of friends, but they don’t even notice anyone outside that circle. That’s why Indian homes are spotless, while just a few feet outside the front door the trash is piled high. It’s outside the circle.

Calcutta’s destitute, it turns out, are significantly happier than those in California, even though the Californian homeless had better access to food, shelter, and health services. Calcutta’s street people may have little in the way of material wealth, but they do have strong social ties. Family. Friends. I would go a step further and say that no one is really homeless in India. Houseless perhaps, but not homeless.

If an Indian person is poor, it is because of fate, the gods, or some negative karma accumulated in a previous lifetime. In other words, they are not to blame. If an ‘American is poor, it is seen as a personal failure, a flawed character.

“Desire is the root cause of sorrow but desire is also the root cause of action. How do we counter the paralysis of action when there is no desire to motivate us?”

Hinduism—indeed, most eastern religions—tells us that striving, even striving for happiness, is self-defeating. The moment you try to improve yourself, you’ve failed. Game over.

If it’s all theater, it doesn’t matter which role you play, as long as you realize it’s only a role.


All the energy that most of us expand worrying about our careers and our marriage and our nasal hair, Craig channeled into just being Craig. This was, I’m sure, a far more efficient and noble use of the energy we call life.

Happiness is there for the taking. All we need is enough willpower to summon it, enough gumption to try it in the first place, and of course enough cash to afford a VW Beetle with optional satellite radio and leather interior.

All talk of paradise only starts when something has been lost.

As a nation, we are three times richer than we were in the 1950s yet no happier.

-We compare ourselves not to the America of 1950 but the America of today and, more specifically, to our neighbor’s of today.

The self-help industrial complex hasn’t helped. By telling us that happiness lives inside us, it’s turned us inward just when we should be looking outward. Not to money but to other people, to community and to the kind of human bonds that so clearly are the sources of our happiness.

Eight out of ten Americans say they think about their happiness at least once a week.

In America, getting on in the world means getting out of the world we have known before.

Every year, nearly forty million Americans move. Some, no doubt, pick up stakes for job opportunities or to be near a sick relative. But many move simply because they believe they’ll be happier somewhere else.

The difference within countries are not nearly as great as the differences between countries.

We may be fairly happy now, but there’s always tomorrow and the prospect of a happier place, a happier life. So all the options are left on the table. We never fully commit. That is, I think, a dangerous thing. We can’t love a place, or a person, if we always have one foot out the door.

There is one simple question, the answer to which identifies your true home. That question is: “Where do you want to die?”


Money matters, but less than we think and not in the way we think. Family is important. So are friends. Envy is toxic. So is excessive thinking. Beaches are optional. Trust is not. Neither is gratitude.

The Swiss are uptight and happy. The Thais are laidback and happy. Icelanders find joy in their binge drinking. Moldovans only misery.

-All miserable countries are alike; happy ones are happy in their own ways.

The glue that holds the entire enterprise together is culture.

The good life…cannot be mere indulgence. It must contain a measure of grit and truth.

The perfect person would be insufferable to live with; likewise, we wouldn’t want to live in the perfect place, either. “A lifetime of happiness! No man could bear it: It would be hell on Earth.”

Our happiness is completely and utterly intertwined with other people: family and friends and neighbors and the woman you hardly notice who cleans your office. Happiness is not a noun or verb. It’s a conjunction. Connective tissue.