Earlier this year, writer Eric Weiner had a book published about his quest to hunt down the happiest places on earth. Steve Rudd caught up with him to ask him about it ...
Hi Eric, how are things?
Things are good. Or at least as good as can be expected for a self-confessed 'grump'.
You are the author of a book called The Geography of Bliss in which you aim to find the happiest and unhappiest nations in the world. What first motivated you to write a book concerned with happiness?
Selfishness. I am an unhappy person, so I thought travelling to the world's happiest places might cheer me up. Also, as a former foreign correspondent, I was tired of focusing on the world's least happy places and least happy people. It gets old (and depressing) after a while.
Were you surprised at your findings?
I was. First of all, I was surprised (and a bit disappointed) to discover that the world's happiest places are not sunny tropical paradises, like Tahiti. No, they tend to be rather cold dark places, like Denmark. I was also surprised at the extent to which our relationships determine our happiness. The notion of 'personal happiness' is silly. Happiness isn't personal. It's relational.
How long did the book take to write and did you enjoy all the travelling experiences that you undertook as part of the writing process?
It took about a year and half to research and write the book. I enjoyed most but not all of the experiences. For instance, in Iceland I sampled a local delicacy of 'Harkal' or rotten shark. It left a nasty aftertaste that persists to this day.
Upon visiting English shores to try and gauge how we are over here, you visited Slough as a result of being intrigued by 'A Happiness Experiment' that had taken place there a couple of years ago for a TV documentary. Do you really think that people can 'think' themselves happy?
No, they can't 'think' themselves happy. But they can make changes to their lives that will increase their odds of being happy. Reaching out to other people, for instance. Or connecting with nature. Or, if all else fails, moving out of Slough.
The Geography of Bliss aside, you have recently returned from India where you were researching another book. Are you at liberty to reveal what you are currently working on?
Yes. My next book is about God. More specifically, it is a personal exploration of the world's lesser-known faiths: Jains, Wiccans, Druids, Sufis, etc.
Did such research necessitate you undertaking a lot of travel through India, and which places did you enjoy visiting the most?
I used to live in India in the 1990s and return there often. India can be infuriating at times, but as someone once told me, it does not disappoint. You can find the best and worst of humanity in India. I also enjoyed Iceland. They have a natural zest and fortitude that will serve them well during these tough times. It's a wonderful country, except for the rotten shark of course!
Did you come up with the idea for the book that you are working on at the moment, or did your publisher proffer suggestions about what you should write about next?
It was a collaborative effort. I presented him with three or four ideas and we settled on this one.
Do you think that it is getting easier or more difficult for up and coming writers to get into print for the first time, and do you think downloadable books available on the Internet are having a detrimental affect on paperback book sales?
In a way, it's easier to get published now, given the advent of self-publishing technology. But with so many books out there (1,000 a day are published in the U.S.!) it's probably harder than ever to get noticed.
Finally, for those people interested in your work, what is the best way for them to keep abreast of future publications?
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