Wednesday, December 10, 2008

geography of bliss

This is the best non-fiction book I've read in a long, long time. It is tremendously funny. I laughed out loud through the entire book. As Daniel Gilbert of the Washington Post said, "If you want to wag a politically correct finger in his direction, you'll have to stop laughing first." And while entertaining, it is in no way superficial. Another reviewer called it "by turns hilarious and profound, this is the kind of book that could change your life." Maybe it has changed my life. It has definitely changed the way I think about happiness.

It is not, thank merciful heavens, a self-help book. (This is the book that made me realize how British I am, and one of my British traits is an utter loathing of self-help books.) Eric Weiner, a former NPR correspondent and self-described grump, sets off in search of the happiest places in the world according to "happiness research." He hangs out, talks to the people, and tries to figure out what makes them so happy. What he finds is sometimes surprising and always interesting. Did you know that in Switzerland it's against the law to flush your toilet after 10 pm? Or that in Thailand thinking too much is firmly discouraged? No, this book is not politically correct. Thank merciful heavens.
I wish that I'd had the chance to post about this book right after I read it a few weeks ago or as I was reading it. I should have made the time. Now I've forgotten so much and I had to return my copy to the library. The paperback comes out in January and I'm buying a copy.
I'm trying to remember all the British tendencies that resonated with me. I know there were more, but here are a few:
Concerned more about the benefit of the group rather than benefit of the individual. (Collectivist rather than individualist.) Check.
Social interaction. Though I do it because it's the polite-in-an-outgoing-way thing here in the U.S., I hate immediately introducing myself to people. I'd rather just fall into conversation and give more personal information, like my name, in a natural way and if it's asked for.
Privacy. My blog may seem to contradict this, but I do not like sharing personal information about myself with strangers and occasionally not even with close friends. Again, I actively work against this tendency because I don't want people to think I'm cold. I feel very formal with people I don't know well, though I try to pretend otherwise. The example Weiner gave of the difference between Americans and British in this regard was hilarious. I wish I had the book so I could quote it here. It was something along the lines of, when you're in the States, you know within five minutes of meeting a woman if she still has her uterus or not.
Antipathy to giving offense. Now this is a tough one, because I always feel more comfortable when I'm open about my (often passionate) opinions. However, I usually try to word things in such a way that there is no way others can take offense. Weiner says something like, "British people would rather cut off an arm than give offense." (Except he said if funnier.) I am never more grieved than when I offend someone with a careless word. But here's the thing: I have to admit it's not about them, it's about me. It's not that I can't bear to offend someone because I hate the thought of trampling their tender feelings. It's that I could never stand to see myself as one of "those people." It's pride.


Anonymous said...

I can almost guarantee that is the same way the Brits feel about giving offense.

I'm with you on the introduction thing. I really don't care if they know my name or not until they ask for it, or until I've chatted with them enough to want to ask for theirs.

Brenda said...

Perfect timing! I just finished Edgar Sawtelle and need a book to laugh with next. I'll see if it comes up on my Kindle:)
And no, the Johnsons are hardly ever prepared or that's how it feels to me anyway:) But this is the first Christmas season in a while that I am feeling on top of things because we didn't travel.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the book very much, too. If I had been reading my personal copy I would have highlighted some choice observations.

Maine Mom said...

This sounds like a book I'd like to read...after I read my Christmas books. :-)

Gabriela said...

Yay! I'm so glad you liked it-I always get a little nervous after I recommend a book to someone. The British chapter cracked me up-I too loathe self-help books, but I do think I am more "American" in the way I offer up info when getting to know someone.