If You’re Happy and You Know It

At first glance, the Jamaicans seemed to be some of the happiest people we’d ever met. They were all smiles as they sold those “Jamaica, No Problem” T-shirts to the tourists bustling around the harbor.  But when our tour bus took an unauthorized errant turn and ended up in the woods, our perceptions changed. Especially when a man walked out of those woods dressed in what I can only describe as a hippy Carib Indian outfit replete with herbs and dangling vines covering him from head to toe. He was introduced by the bus driver as a local herbalist and he proceeded to give us, his captive audience, a lecture on herbs and then offered us the opportunity to buy those herbs. The driver and Dr Herbalist were quite insistent and clearly unhappy when most of the tourists declined their offer.

So, if people living on a beautiful Caribbean island with mostly sunny days and warm breezes aren’t always happy, then, who is, you ask? This is the exact question that Eric Weiner, author of The Geography of Bliss has pondered and attempted to answer in an informative and entertaining book. Weiner is a self described pessimist and curmudgeon who hasn’t let that stop him from pondering why some people seem to be so much happier than others. This question led him on a series of trips to far flung places around the world to see if he, too, could uncover the reasons for other peoples’ happiness. He visited local people in a number of countries, ate and drank and danced with them and conferred with professors who actually study and measure a place’s happiness index. Yes, there are Happiness professors at many universities around the world. Who knew?

Some of the locations where the happiest people live are not surprising but others certainly are. I don’t want to spoil this trip around the globe for you by revealing the results so you will have to find out for yourself by reading this unusual and often funny book. And, when you’re done reading Weiner’s book, do try the following books about two of the country’s that Weiner visited, Bhutan and Moldova. This may give you more insight about where their citizens rank on the Happiness Index and why.

First, Jamie Zeppa’s Beyond the Sky and the Earth: a Journey Into Bhutan  will take you on a trip to this country at the top of the world as you experience it through the eyes of a Canadian teacher who moved there to teach English. My favorite quote from this book was a poem found on a road near Bhutan, “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’t eat money”.

In Playing the Moldovans at Tennis by Tony Hawks, British comedian, ex-Junior English tennis champion and quirky author(think Dave Barry) bets his friend that he can take on the Moldovan soccer team and beat them all at tennis. Read the book to see what he bet and why it’s important that he doesn’t lose that bet. This is a  witty laugh out loud book that will take you to an unusual destination that few Americans ever visit.

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