Chapter 3. Bhutan
While other passengers admire the view of Himalayas, the narrator recalls the image of Shangri-La, a place invented by James Hilton in his profound book Lost Horizon. Through the image of Shangri-La, Eric Weiner provides the readers with his understanding of the notion of paradise. Thus, it should be rather difficult to get there. Paradise will cease to be paradise "if you can take a taxi there". Moreover, there must be a clear line that distinctively separates paradise and ordinary life. "Paradise, in other words, is a selective club" (Weiner 73). Once someone's perfect place is an easy destination for the others, it loses its beauty.
Bhutan is special for an official governmental policy called Gross National Happiness (GNH) that aims at measuring people's progress by the happiness level in the first place. Weiner believes that this particular concept presents a profound shift from how we perceive money and the duties of the government representatives to its people. The authority's every decision is to be undertaken only through the prism of nation's happiness level.
However, there are some things that Weiner finds rather disturbing in the country. For example, in 1999, Bhutan became the last country to get access to television channels. Very soon, TV became an indispensable part of people's lives, creating quite controversial situation. Despite some minor setbacks, Weiner is still excited about numerous aspects of everyday life in Bhutan, like the absence of advertisements and traffic lights, the people's attitude towards dogs on the road, contraband in the form of asparagus and zucchini, marijuana being fed to pigs, the army producing liquor, ban on tobacco, the number of monks that exceed the number of soldiers, the people's lives being seamless and integrated, school of thought called "crazy wisdom" and many other things.
Sitting at the airport terminal at Bhutan, Wiener concludes that Bhutan is nowhere near the paradise described in the Lost Horizon. Still, the country's ability to disorient a foreigner and its nature gave freedom to his imagination, provided him with self-understanding and let him accept life as it is. Wiener's trip to Bhutan encourages a reader to address and question his/her own perception of life, not through quantitative, like GDP, but qualitative analysis, like GNH.
Chapter 7. Thailand
The first thing Eric Weiner writes about coming to Thailand is that the nation's unreasonable obedience to pleasure triggers is regarded as the path towards happiness. The inexperienced foreigners often go so deeply in the world of Thailand that they can neither perform nor comprehend the existence of all duties and obligations any more. People begin to suffer from an exuberance of pleasure as it happened with one British newspaper reporter from the Weiner's story.
Weiner speaks of different bizarre things that take place only in Thailand, such as strawberry pizza or "no-hands" restaurants, where male customers are fed by waitresses like the infants. Another puzzle is Thais' smile. "Thais know for sure that a real smile cannot be seen in the lips. It is located in the eyes" (Weiner 306). Weiner discovers that Thais regard smile as a social gesture rarely used when alone. Moreover, they have different words for different types of smile just as Inuit have numerous words for snow. Although Weiner does find such variety fascinating, it further disconcerts him. He no longer believes the Thai smile. It appears to be rather fake.
There are some expressions that Thai people use in their day-to-day life that speak volumes about the way they define good life; these are "Don't be that serious!" and "Don't think too much!" These phrases make Weiner address and question the notion of thinking itself. While in Thailand deep thinking is considered to be a bad virtue that complicates people's lives, westerners turn to thorough and detailed contemplations each time they encounter complicated situations. Weiner compares the notion of thinking as it is for Thais to running. One can run all day, but that does not necessarily mean that he/she will end up somewhere. Eric Weiner speaks of Thailand as of a happy country. However, the type of happiness people experience here is a very peculiar one. Thais have "never mind" attitude towards life, which is rather dangerous for a foreign person, who either adopts such approach or goes insane.
Chapter 8. Great Britain
Weiner outlines that British regard happiness as a transatlantic import from America, an infantile and silly one. For those few who are indeed happy, the advice is not to show it in any case, and simply grumble with the rest. To discover more about British perception of happiness, Weiner heads to so-called auto-icon of late Jeremy Bentham. The famous lawyer in his works created the notion of "felicific calculus" (Weiner 339). Bentham regarded happiness as a mathematical proposition, "It’s simple math, indeed. Add up the pleasant moments of your life, afterwards subtract the unpleasant ones. Therefore, he result is your overall happiness. The same calculations, Bentham believed, could be applied to an entire nation." (Weiner 340) Weiner names Bentham's theory intriguing but a flawed one because the lawyer did not differentiate one pleasure from another in terms of quality.
At the very beginning of the book, Weiner defines himself as a grump who started a journey in search of paradise, the happiest place. Thus, he identifies Britain as a perfect place for grumps. However, he, an outstanding grump, as he used to perceive himself earlier, is nowhere near British grumps: "Once uncorked, British grumps are a force of nature, remarkable for, if nothing else, their sheer staying power" (Weiner 365). Weiner appears to be a mere amateur grump.
In this chapter, Weiner stops his talks with people, taking part in an experiment conducted by BBC in Slough, Britain. The experiment aimed at changing the psychological climate of the town into the happier one. The experiment indeed was successful, however, only for the participants. Still, after talking to them, Weiner believes that they are seeds of happiness in a gloomy Britain town that will sprout and bloom. The seeds just need to be kept planting, making Britain a happy place.
Chapter 10. America
Back at home, Eric Weiner ends riding through Miami, a place that most people directly relate to the perfect place, a paradise. Sandy beaches, soaring palm trees, and scorching sun, all imply happiness. One should just take it. Happiness is no longer the fate of gods or lucky few ones. Nowadays, everyone has access to it. Moreover, current Americans' obsession with finding happiness coincides with the time of material prosperity that has never happened before.
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However, Weiner comes to the opposite thoughts very soon. Numerous researches prove that Americans are less happy now than ever before. Unfortunately, the nation is more wealthy than happy. Weiner cites the book written by Myers, an American psychologist, who states that "since 1960, the teen-suicide rate tripled, the divorce rate has doubled, the prison population quintupled, the violent-crime rate quadrupled. The rates of anxiety, depression, and other mental-health problems have increased dramatically." (Weiner 423) Weiner concludes that as a nation, Americans are three times wealthier comparing with the indexes of the year 1950. However, the nation has not become any happier since that time. Weiner seeks the explanation. Among some of the reasons, he names fixation on job and durable commuting that steal time one could have spent with his/her family and friends.
Miami did not meet Weiner's expectation of a paradise place, neither for a few other people he interviews. They have moved to Asheville after devastating and continuous staying in Miami. Asheville fascinates people with a beautiful mountain ridge, diverse cultural life, nice restaurants, and easiness to access different places throughout the town. Thus, outer conditions do matter in defining the perfect place. Still, after one-year-long trip around the world, Eric Weiner has found none.