Roundtable discussion for faculty interested in integrating the book into courses or programs next year. Wed. April 8 from 12:10-1:30 p.m. in the Fielder Room MU
This year’s selection for the 2009-2010 Campus Community Book Project takes readers across the globe as author Eric Weiner shares a humorous and insightful look into The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World.
As a foreign correspondent for National Public Radio, Weiner has reported from over 30 countries in his career – most of which he describes as “profoundly unhappy places.” In his book, he sets out to find a refreshing new take on life by researching cross-cultural perspectives on what defines happiness.
“As a writer, he has a very distinctive, humorous voice,” said Gary Sue Goodman. As a lecturer for the University Writing Program and former coordinator of the Book Project, Goodman is part of the selection committee that read through hundreds of books to determine one which best fit this year’s theme of “psychological and emotional well-being.“
“[Weiner’s] book looks at the subject of psychological well-being from the broadest perspective of any of the books and from a positive perspective – what makes us happy instead of what makes us depressed – which I think would be more appealing to students,” Goodman said in an e-mail interview.
Beginning in the fall, The Geography of Bliss will be integrated into a wide range of course curriculum, and the Davis community will be encouraged to pick up a copy to participate in the project’s related discussions and events. A copy of The Geography of Bliss can now be purchased at the UC Davis Bookstore for $9.99.
“[Weiner] approaches the book with a great deal of humor, so it’s ‘lighter,‘ compared to the very heavy topics of past book projects,” said Mikael Villalobos, administrator of Diversity Education and chair of the project. “But it still very much stays true to the book project’s goal, in that it will engage the university and the community in conversation about issues that are pertinent for us, and will encourage learning about cross-cultural issues.“
In an interview with The California Aggie, Weiner discusses some of the major themes of his book, and relates his experiences directly to college students.
How long did it take to research and write this book? What is something you discovered along the way that surprised you?
Well it took about a year and a half total, which is not a lot of time for what I was undertaking – that included travel, research and writing – I could have easily spent twice as long. And in doing this, I found how hard it is to get people to actually talk about their happiness. People are much more comfortable talking about how miserable they are than why they’re happy. In most languages there are more words to describe unhappiness than happiness, and giving people a fill-in-the-blank of “why are you happy?” doesn’t give you enough information to write a chapter, let alone a book, so sometimes I really had to dig.
In your book, you define happiness in many different ways. As a self-professed “grump,” how would you define “grumpiness?” What causes it?
In this country in particular there’s an expectation and almost a demand to be happy all the time, and realistically, no one can be happy all the time, but we feel like there’s something wrong with us if we aren’t. To some extent, I think we’re just born with a genetic predisposition to be happy or unhappy. I think I was born grumpy from the beginning – but at the heart of it, there’s a dissatisfaction with the way things are, and the way your life is. Another idea is that we can be addicted to sadness, and we can use it as a kind of buffer in our life – it’s better to feel sadness than to feel nothing. And in some ways, it’s more fun being grumpy than happy.
How can the message of your book relate to college students?
I think this will appeal to college students because they have that wonderlust, and still are forming their way of looking at the world. For one thing, the book is based on the idea of travel, and the virtues of changing your location, and contrary to what a lot of self helps books say about happiness being inside of you, a lot of it is your environment, and getting out into the world. And then of course there’s a chapter in the Netherlands where I smoke Moroccan hashish for research purposes – there’s a lot of heavy drinking in Iceland, some sex in Thailand and things like that. But there’s always a serious point. I think funny books can also be profound ones – they don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Based on what you discovered in your book, what advice would you give to college students looking to find their own happiness?
One thing that I think is good about the college years is your proximity to other people. As we get older, we tend to physically separate ourselves from others, but in college you have that constant social interaction. Relationships with others is one of those universal elements of happiness, so in that sense, college life can be a very happy place.
One subject I talked about in my book is expectations, and how countries and people with low expectations tend to be happier. Kids in college have a lot of expectations, and I think it would be good for them to be lower – not in the sense of being lazy and just sitting around and drinking beer all day – but actually putting your whole effort into what you do, without being over preoccupied with the end result. Going to class, doing the reading, and enjoying it, but not doing it just for the A’s. Enjoying where you are.
MICHELLE IMMEL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.