Tuesday, September 16, 2008

This week I finished reading The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner, the chronicle of an American author travels to various countries to find out if the people who reside there are happy, and if so, just what it is that makes them happy. There is a chapter in the book devoted to Great Britain, which, Weiner points out, is a country that is deeply suspicious of happiness. As a British friend of the author assures him, "The British . . . possess a 'latent happiness.' It's there, lurking deep in their bowels. You just can't see it. Or feel it. Or hear it. Or detect it in any way know to man. But it's there . . . ." He discusses a BBC program from 2005 entitled "Making Slough Happy", in which 50 volunteers in the city of Slough were given instruction by psychologists and other "happiness experts" on how to become happier.

Here are the "10 Steps to Happiness":

Plant something and nurture it
Count your blessings - at least five - at the end of each day
Take time to talk - have an hour-long conversation with a loved one each week
Phone a friend whom you have not spoken to for a while and arrange to meet up
Give yourself a treat every day and take the time to really enjoy it
Have a good laugh at least once a day
Get physical - exercise for half an hour three times a week
Smile at and/or say hello to a stranger at least once each day
Cut your TV viewing by half
Spread some kindness - do a good turn for someone every day

The news report makes it sound as if Slough was chosen at random, as a sort of "typical British town", but in the book, the author discovers that Slough itself is an undistinguished town full of residents who say things like, "Slough is crap. Total crap. I hate it." And that is from a person Weiner deems to be relatively happy! On the bright side, the experiment was deemed to be a success with increased happiness levels of 33% (although how the experts managed to quantify happiness is not explained). On the other hand, the jury is still out on whether this will be a lasting effect, or whether it was just a temporary clearing of the dark cloud which apparently hangs over Slough.

Meanwhile, the maddening Swedish newspapers have done it again. Today, they carried the tantalizing story about a "beloved world-famous Swedish artist" who was arrested for brutally beating his wife over the weekend. Now, I am a great follower of the newsgroup alt.gossip.celebrities, and I know all about "blind items." However, since the person in question has been actually arrested, you'd think they could spill the name. No go, just teasing hints about his "up coming world tour" and so on. My poor mind was reeling with the possibilities. Thankfully, a little research has uncovered the gem of a website Flashback, which helpfully put me out of my misery. I think I will be bookmarking this one for future reference.

Final Verdict for The Geography of Bliss: Two Gherkins, for being an interesting look at happiness in various countries


Gail Is This Mutton? said...

We have the maddening UK papers to thank for the low spirits. Today they tell us we're now the most overcrowded country in Europe. As for Slough, a former Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman, who memorably wrote "Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough"

Lisanne624 said...

One of these days I'm going to have to visit Slough to find out just what makes it so terrible!

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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