Author Eric Weiner invites SMC to discover “The Geography of Bliss”

Extroverts are happier than introverts. Optimists are happier than pessimists. Married people are happier than single people. People are least happy if they have to commute to work. Busy people are happier than those who are not. Wealthy people are happier than poor people, but only slightly. Eric Weiner illustrates these findings on happiness in his book, “The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World.” Weiner, a foreign correspondent for National Public Radio, former business reporter for The New York Times, and self-proclaimed “grump,” began travelling around the world in search of different cultural perceptions and pursuits of happiness.

“I woke up one morning, and had one of those light bulb moments where I thought, ‘What am I doing?’” Weiner said, during one of his two lectures at Santa Monica College on March 1.

“I travel in the world an unhappy person, and I’m focusing on the least happy people in the least happy places, ” Weiner said, of his work as a foreign correspondent. “What if I spent a year travelling the world, seeking out not the miserable places, but the happiest ones? ”

This thought led to his New York Times bestseller “The Geography of Bliss,” which has been translated into 14 languages.

SMC’s Global Citizenship initiative adopted the non-fiction book, along with the fiction book “Siddhartha” by German-Swiss author Hermann Hesse, as the campus reads for 2012. The initiative was formed by the Academic Senate and SMC superintendent and president Chui Tsang.

Pete Morris, SMC geography instructor and faculty leader for the initiative, said its goal is to “engage students, faculty and staff in a wide range of activities and discussions regarding global affairs and the meanings and actions of citizenship in the 21st century.”

For the third time, a Global Citizenship theme was chosen, along with related books selected by the English department for inclusion in lectures. Students, faculty and staff voted to make “Health, Wellness and the Pursuit of Happiness” this year’s topic.

“I think people are happy with the books we have chosen, and excited about the potential to help students make the connections between the different courses that they are studying, ” said Morris, who uses “The Geography of Bliss” in one of his geography classes.

Susan Sterr, chair of the SMC English department, said in her introduction of Weiner’s lecture that the book “provoked thoughtful and very enjoyable discussions in the classrooms and circles across campus.”

According to English instructor Tara Tyson, who is teaching the book for the third time this semester, students seem to really embrace it, mainly because of its humorous and thoughtful tone.

“He is really trying to get to the heart of this topic that we – I think particularly in America – pretend that we embrace, but we actually don’t want to talk about, which is our own happiness,” said Tyson. “I think there is something that is really interesting and provocative for people.”

Weiner mentioned in his lecture that he was particularly interested in the relationship between happiness and place.

“Place matters; where we are affects who we are,” he said.

In his mind, before he began his quest for happiness, he thought places like Tahiti with its palm trees, beaches and “drinks with the little umbrellas” were the happiest. To his surprise, he discovered that the happiest locations can actually be cold, dark places like Denmark, Sweden or Iceland.

Weiner asked audience members to close their eyes, and imagine plugging into a “happiness machine” that could create eternal happiness. Most people were not in favor of the idea, which was no surprise to Weiner.

“We don’t want our happiness to be too easy, and we don’t always want to be happy,” he said. “We want to experience unhappiness, not only to appreciate the moments of happiness, but because there is beauty in that as well.”

“Squash envy, get busy, experience gratitude on a regular basis, and don’t commute too far,” Weiner said.