The author sets off to many places around the world to find out what makes us happy. Pretty entertaining travelogue, interposed with some philosophy and psychological research about happiness.
Key ideas on happiness:
- “Wanting” and “liking” activate different parts of the brain. What we want is not always the same thing as what makes us happy.
- Trust is a huge part of happiness. We need to have trust in our neighbors, government.
- On the flip side of trust, envy is toxic to happiness.
- Family, friends and relationships are important.
- Recipe for happiness: count the number of kind acts you do each day + think about death each day (makes you realize each moment of life is a gift).
- Hedonic adaptation: events may temporarily boost our happiness high (winning the lottery) or low (being paralyzed in a serious accident), but over the long term an individual’s happiness levels are generally consistent.
Some notes on some countries he visited:
- Bhutan: “Gross National Happiness”
- Qatar: Riches don’t buy happiness.
- Iceland: head of Iceland’s “Heathen” religion admits it all might be a “confused muddle” but still people need a belief system in order to have transcendental spiritual experiences.
- Moldova: Least happy country on the list that isn’t at war. Moldovans are glad when misfortune strikes others – “at least it wasn’t me!” (Although, seems like author was looking for misery and found it…)
- Thailand: too much introspection, even about happiness itself, causes unhappiness. Just go with the flow.
A paraphrased quote: “Maybe happiness is being in a place where you don’t want to go anywhere else, or just being yourself and not wanting to be anyone else.”