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As a foreign correspondent for NPR, Eric Weiner spent more than 10 years reporting on problems overseas, such as suicide bombings in Jerusalem and student suicides in Tokyo. Then he became intrigued with finding the places in the world where people are reportedly the happiest — and learning why.
He chronicled his travels in The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World.
Weiner says finding happiness hasn't always been a goal for the masses.
"Happiness went from being this glorious benefit bestowed on the fortunate few to something that each one of us expects to obtain, and expectations and happiness are not necessarily related. They often go in opposite directions," Weiner tells Scott Simon.
Weiner started his search at what he describes as a "rather unhappy-looking office building" in Rotterdam that houses the World Database of Happiness, where much of the data from the "burgeoning science of happiness" is compiled. Then, he traveled to several countries to try to create an "atlas of bliss." One of them was Switzerland.
So why are the Swiss so happy? Perhaps because things there work well, Weiner says.
"The trains really do run on time; the streets are clean," he says.
But Weiner says he believes there are other reasons why the Swiss rate high on the happiness scale.
"One is that they do vote a lot. They vote seven or eight times a year in public referendum, and they have a say in what happens. And having a say in your life is an important ingredient in happiness," he says.
They also have a healthy attitude toward money, he adds.
"In America, we have this attitude of 'If you've got it, flaunt it,' and the Swiss way is 'If you've got it, hide it. Do not provoke envy in others.' And envy, I do believe, is one of the great enemies of happiness."
In another stop on the happiness search, Weiner visited Bhutan, where he met a man with this rather unexpected advice: To be happy, you need to set aside a few minutes a day to think about death.
"That really hit home with me, I have to say," Weiner says. "In this country, we do not talk about death. ... We will talk about anything except for death. We will talk about how much money we make, we'll talk about our sex lives, we'll talk about politics. We will not talk about death."
Another theory that stuck with him is that happiness isn't personal — it's relational. "I know that sounds a bit corny and a bit hackneyed, but it's true," he says.
Since writing the book, Weiner says, "I am happier — but still grumpy."
Weiner is a correspondent for NPR.org.
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