Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World - Eric Weiner

Great Britain: Happiness is a Work in Progress

Weiner decided to visit a town in Britain called Slough because a few years ago Slough was featured in a British reality show (it is also the town where the British version of The Office is set). Six happiness experts were sent to Slough to make the populace happier. Weiner is intrigued because "here was a deliberate, ambitious attempt to take an unhappy place and make it happy-or at least happier. Could it be done?"

The happiness experts took fifty Slough residents, tested their happiness levels, which turned out to be average, and then spent twelve weeks giving them happiness training. At the end of the twelve weeks, these newly happy people were to go around spreading happiness through the rest of Slough. The happiness re-test showed that they had gone up the happiness scale by 33% and were happier than Switzerland (p.253-4).

Part of this happiness training consisted of what I view as New Age exercises - hugging trees, doing tai chi, doing yoga, submerging oneself in an isolation tanks. The whole series sounds like an episode of Absolutely Fabulous - the one where Edina is swimming around her bedroom pool with her dolphin, who later dies of fin flop. The fifty visit graveyards and reflect on how even a mundane task like vacuuming, if done well, can be pleasurable.

Weiner then tracks down three people were on the happiness show. Based on his account of them, they are innately happy people, even the one with the really serious heart condition. What they all seem to have in common, besides being happier, is that they are curious people. They use their brain. They learn new things and they think about them.They would be equally happy if they had been taught breadmaking and sheetrocking since learning, not stagnating, is what makes them happy.

Much of the chapter is spent comparing American happiness to British happiness. The Brits (to me) may actually be happier since they are not going to therapists or reading self-help books. They are doing things that make them happier (ie getting cast in reality shows) rather than just thinking about things that make them happy. One guy is even made happy by the cultural diversity in Slough, even though Weiner points out that the more homogenous cultures are happier.I wonder if Americans are happier than the Brits or whether that was just American PR?

1 comment:

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