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Today Kellie Nix reviews Eric Weiner's fascinating book The Geography of Bliss.
Happiness is... by Kellie Nix
Happiness is technically defined as "feeling or showing pleasure or contentment". However, happiness as a general feeling is difficult to define. Eric Weiner (Pronounced 'Whiner', ironically enough) explores the meaning of being happy in his book, The Geography of Bliss. If you haven't read this book yet, I highly recommend it. Not only does the book lead you to think deeply about how happiness is perceived, he writes with a dry humor that makes it enjoyable, rather than a bland scientific book. Weiner is also a correspondent for NPR.
After reading this book, I took my own time to ponder what being happy is to me. Is it finding love? Is it having a harmonious family? Or perhaps discovering your true passion or career choice? Since I am young in the ways of the world still, I have a feeling my own 'happiness' quotient wasn't these. Besides, young children grinning and running around on the playground are happy, aren't they? Or at least until their next tantrum, but those are short-lived enough. Could you say that the saying rings true- that "Ignorance is bliss"? For those kids on the playground, it may as well.
I've personally found that besides everyone having their own interpretation on happiness, that these interpretations change frequently and exist in different layers. Perhaps somebody has a high paying job for a large corporation. Their defination of happiness might be the stable financial situation that gives their family a nice house and the things they desire without worrying about money. But if that person were to lose his or her job and see life from a different perspective of the lower-class or middle-class, that idea of what makes them happy might change. Sure, money and that old stable job would make them happy. But would they have a newfound appreciation for the non-inanimate objects such as the people they love around them? Aside from the cliche story of jobloss and new appreciation is the magnitude of what might make a person happy. There is something to be said for the little joys in life, for stopping to smelll the roses. I love different scents- perfumes, flowers, you name it. Every time I stop and smell something calming like a candle I'm in a better mood almost immediately. My friend keeps lavender in a jar for when times get stressful for her. Perhaps those little moments like writing a thank you/love note, seeing a baby smile, whatever, are the key to being happy. Noticing the little details and neglecting to let the pitfalls slow you down.
Now back to Eric Weiner's book. He documents his travels to different countries and what happiness generally is to the citizens. The happiest places weren't places that have high rates of wealth (such as the US) or land, but more unlikely countries. India, Bhutan, Switzerland, and Iceland were among the more happier places of the world on the Gross National Happiness scales. As I recall this from the book, materialism comes to mind. Are we too materialistic as a society to see the deeper meaning in what we have in life? Do we work too hard to have a comfortable life to let ourselves have peace? In India, the rich and poor live side by side, and yet each is both happy, if the poorer aren't more so.
Maybe happiness is just that- being upbeat and cheerful when you can and the result will follow. In my psych class in high school, I read a section in the textbook that said in a study, participants who chewed their pencils in class (using the muscles around the mouth also used to smile) had better moods than those who didn't. Optimists would say that just attempting to be in a good mood and letting petty stuff roll off your back is the way to peace of mind. Reflecting on this, I have my doubts. I agree that loosening up and not letting little stuff get to you is a good way to go about, but being "fake happy" can't be a cure-all. Especially when you are definately sad or mad, or what have you. I can't count the times I've heard someone say that letting themselves have a good long cry after something bad has happened (when they haven't or don't usually cry) turned them around to begin the healing from grief. Perhaps letting yourself experience the emotions you have in an appropriate way and then dealing with whatever stressor(s) you have is the key to being happy.
On a final note, I am still searching for my own defination of happiness. In the book Mr. Weiner also mentions that it is a typical idea in the US to try and find happiness in life, whereas elsewhere in the world, people just let themselves be happy. They don't think about and wonder if they are or aren't, they let the chips fall where they may. Maybe that's why the US has a lower "happiness quotient" than other countries, because we focus on it instead of letting ourselves be. In true American fashion, I would love to hear other takes on this idea.
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Friday, August 01, 2008
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