Saturday, May 3, 2008

Traveling Around the World From My Sofa

The thing about books about world travel is that it makes me slightly depressed to read them. I end up moping around for a few days and nagging my husband about how I never get to go anywhere. He then nags me about getting a passport so he could take me somewhere if he wanted to and I complain about not having a reason to get a passport since we're never going to go anywhere anyway. It's a ridiculous cycle, but I keep reading the books in the hopes that I will quit grumping and get a passport and someone will watch my children and we'll do some exploring. I'll let you know when that happens.

If you think that former paragraph is whiney and grumpy, it's nothing compared to Eric Weiner's book, "The Geography of Bliss". Weiner is a former correspondent for NPR and has lived all around the world. He is also a self-proclaimed neurotic grump and hypochondriac. In his lifelong search for happiness, he decided to research where the happiest place on earth is. It's not Disneyland, so don't bother saying it. First, he met up with the scientific expert on measurable happiness and looked over the database that held statistics on the happiest and unhappiest places on earth. Second, he traveled to the happiest (Switzerland) and unhappiest (Moldova) countries on the planet to see what made them so happy or unhappy. What he learned was very interesting in that each culture's perception of happiness was different and how they achieved their happiness was varying. But what made them unhappy was pretty much the same. Third, Weiner adopted some cultures' techniques for being happy, learned a lot about his own unhappiness in the process and tried out a few tools to up his happiness quotient. I have to say I did too, though I'd still like to do some travel to make sure it's not a lack of foreign experiences that contribute to my grumpiness.

The second book I read was Mo Willems' "You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When It Monsoons: The World On One Cartoon a Day" and it was world travel from a different perspective. Weiner tended to pamper himself as he traveled, in the name of science and trying to find the formula for happiness, while Willems' adventures after college had nothing to do with pampering or even bathing. He spent a year traveling around the world with his own two feet or on the cheapest transportation possible and drew a cartoon every single day. He writes in the introduction that while looking at the cartoons later to put them together for publishing, he often wondered why he picked the event he did for that day instead of something bigger or more significant. But oftentimes, the smaller events were more poignant. Or hilarious. Reading this book made me wonder how much of the world a tourist sees, since most of the time they never get out of their rental car or tour bus and sample the people up close. Willems did just that and he now has the memories drawn in pencil to remind him of it.

Someday I will see Bhutan or Costa Rica. It won't stop me from being happy in the mean time, despite the United States' fairly low ranking on the happiest countries list. I won't obsess about it, but I just might go get my passport, in case an opportunity comes up that I wouldn't want to miss. And find some more books to read that will transport me there, at least metaphysically.


  1. Its always good to have your passport, just in case.
    And it is really neat to travel as well. It changes you for the rest of your life.
    love you "red"


  2. I've had The Geography of Bliss on my to-read list now for several months.... And I really want to try out the Mo Willems book too. Thanks!

  3. Go get your passport, Jenny. Then Mike has no excuses and you can see the world. I think you're right about tourists missing the good stuff. Living in Italy and eating at people's houses and being in small towns and shopping at the market was the real way to experience the country. Or renting a bike. It slows you down.