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I finished The Geography of Bliss, by Eric Weiner the other day. It’s non-fiction and a pretty fast read, but I really enjoyed it.

I was wandering through Powells about a month ago looking for a new book when I came across this one. I may have been feeling a little down lately, so a travel book about happiness caught my attention.

The book chronicles Weiner’s travels to about 10 different countries that score highest or lowest on a “happiness scale.” He visits them and spends a chapter mulling on what makes their culture happy, or unhappy. The very nature of the book demands that can’t spend too much time in every place, so it’s not in-depth research or anything–more like what he noticed when he was there. Very subjective, but still interesting.

There were too many countries for me to comment on all of them, but one that really stood out to me was Iceland.

Iceland has always fascinated me, and it always stays high on my list of places to go. Why? I don’t know! A dark, icy, cold island–why visit? I think that’s part of the allure. The whole island is still alive, with volcanoes blaring and earth shifting, and an entire half of the year where the sun doesn’t come out. There’s something fascinating about that fact that people have survived for centuries in such a harsh climate.

“Theories abound as to why cold or temperate climates produce happier people than warm, tropical ones. My favorite theory is the Get-Along-Or-Die Theory. In warm places, this theory states, life is too easy; your next meal simply falls from a coconut tree. Cooperation with others in optional. In colder places, though, cooperation is mandatory. Everyone must work together to ensure a good harvest or a hearty haul of cod. Or everyone dies. Together.
 …We humans need each other, so we cooperate–for purely selfish reasons at first. At some point, though, the needing fades and all that remains is the cooperation. We help each other because we can, or because it makes us feel good, not because we’re counting on some future payback. There is a word for this: love.

Another thing I loved is that Iceland isn’t afraid of failure, on an individual or a national level: “There’s no one on the island telling them they’re not good enough, so they just go ahead and paint and sing and write. One result of this freewheeling attitude is that Icelanders produce a lot of crap. They’re the first to admit it. But crap plays an important role in the art world: it’s fertilizer.”

There were lots of other things, too, but I’ll stop there. It was a good book to mull over–I’m not sure it made me happier immediately, but I felt like it was good to think about.

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