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Franklin Roosevelt believed that sheer “happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.” This famous motto of his was reflected throughout the book The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner which recorded the experience of the author in his travels to other countries in trying to find out what makes people happy. Weiner recorded in the book that he had visited ten places around the world, and in his stay in each particular place, he came up with different concepts and definitions of different states of happiness of people. In chapter five, Weiner visited Iceland where he found out that experiencing failure is also a cause of happiness. In his visit in Qatar which is in chapter four, he learned that happiness is just a temporary or instant feeling. From a psychological viewpoint, Weiner saw from these places several common factors that make people happy. Some factors include sociability, language, an individual’s response to hardship, and national economic condition.
Happiness is a matter or a subject that is shared by the entire country or community. When Weiner was at Iceland, he noticed that the local government chose to keep the country’s employment rate lower than normal than to have the country suffer from high inflation. His observation made him conclude that “high unemployment… reduces overall happiness much more than high inflation” (150). The government of Iceland chooses to lower the unemployment rate because the pain it will cause is selective while high inflation causes shared pain. Instead of causing small group of unemployed people unhappiness, they rather heighten the inflation level so they can split up the misfortune to the whole country. This makes the people in the country happy because no one in particular needs to fear losing his job.
After his travel in Qatar, he came up with the conclusion that happiness is merely like winning a lottery ticket. He continued to reason that a person who won a lottery ticket would feel instantly happy but the happiness will slowly die and the person would not feel anything special about the winning anymore after some time. Qataris felt extreme happiness when they discovered wealth in form of oil and gas. They indulge themselves in luxury and excess. They “connect… [themselves] to something larger than [them],…to “recognize…that [they] are not mere blips on the cosmic radar screen but part of something much bigger” (110); however, they actually isolate themselves from the world and therefore felt unhappy instead. The happiness they felt stayed only for some time. Later, they started to feel that their wealth isolated them from the outside world.
However, he also recorded that wealth has really something to do with happiness. Moza, a woman from Qatar, told her that “luxury facilitates…happiness” (p. 132). Moza confessed that she was happy with her life. On a scale of one to ten, she rated her happiness ten. She was happy because she can travel around the world, fly on first class airlines, and check in top hotels. And money is needed to do all these things. If she does not have money, she would not be able to do the things that make her happy and therefore she would not be able to achieve happiness. She concluded that what she had and what she was doing was “part of [her] happiness” (p. 133). As an example, she related a story of a Qatari man who paid $2.5 million for a cellphone number. What he did may sound absurd for others but what he did actually gave him happiness. Another friend of her also bought a beautiful purse for $8,000 and “it made her very happy” (p. 133). This few examples of Qataris who pay a very high price for happiness proves that wealth indeed “facilitates…happiness” (p. 132).
In another point of view, Weiner observed that the Qataris do not feel any longer the happiness they felt when they discovered immense wealth. They became so excited that they took all the pleasure they wished for a long time. However, wealth did not make them happy. Still, they did not feel satisfied with their lives. When the intense happiness faded, they realized that their wealth actually secluded them from others. Individuals separate them from other individuals and the country itself isolated itself from the outside world. Because of the isolation, they felt as if they were alone and separated from the world. Their wealth was not able to bring them the real happiness that every people wanted. Instead, their wealth made them unhappy because it separated them from the world. From this, we may say that genuine happiness cannot be earned alone. It can only be felt when it is shared with others. Therefore, genuine happiness comes from within and but it can only be fulfilled when it is shared or is extended.
Moreover, when people become too wealthy, just like the Qataris, they become distrustful to the people around them. It becomes too hard to trust people, and sometimes even their friends and relatives, because they keep on thinking about their wealth. As a result, people try to keep themselves away and close their circles. Even if they do not intend to do so, they are actually isolating themselves and preventing others to be with their company. Wealth therefore is not the measure of happiness. It may bring happiness; that is true. But it only stays for a moment. The Qataris themselves are showing to the world that it was not genuine happiness that wealth brings. Rather, it is nothing better than “winning a lottery ticket” as Weiner described it.
Happiness has a direct connection with language too. Weiner, in chapter five, believes that the Icelanders’ “language is an immense source of joy” within their community. He gave examples of Icelandic language and its usage. In formal greetings they say “komdu scell” which literally means “come happy;” in parting, they utter “vertu scell,” which literally means “go happy.” Icelandic language includes the word “happiness” in greeting and parting whether in formal or casual greeting. This situation suggests that language correlates to happiness in ways that they might not have thought of.
From these two countries we can see the different factors that affect people’s happiness. We cannot deny that it is related to the condition of the country itself. The economic situation of the country affects the level of happiness of their people. Moreover, other factors including language, and the people’s different views and ways of life determines happiness too. From the readings, we may glimpse a way on how we can improve our own happiness and moreover, contribute to the happiness of the people around us.