90,000 Miles to Me

33,040 Miles • The Geography of Bliss

I’ve been reading the book The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World. It has been helping to tie together a number of concepts that I’ve been reprocessing lately, and bringing others into sharper relief.

In the book, the author is searching for what conditions contribute to happiness, and what detracts from it. Separating out happiness from all sorts of other things that might look similar, like comfort, ease, or convenience, was difficult, but there is a surprising amount of data on the subject, and some of it is counterintuitive.

For example, money only correlates with happiness up to a shockingly low amount. Once our basic needs for food, shelter, and safety are minimally met, there is almost no relationship between increased money and increased happiness. Yet it often feels like there is, because more money can be the means to things or experiences we want, options for what to do in life, etc. but these have surprisingly little to do with a durable, fundamental happiness in one’s life. Just think of someone you know who has plenty of money, yet is always complaining. 

I don’t usually post my book notes, but these seemed worth sharing. If you are intrigued, I recommend the rest of the book. My absolute biggest take away is the first bullet point.

  • It is possible to live with the highest goal in life being compassion, rather than achievement or even making the world a better place.
  • Boredom and impatience are closely linked. Boredom is a choice to be discontent with one’s current moment.
  • Contentment includes having all the different parts of one’s life integrated, not siloed. One’s work, family, play, philosophy, and religion cannot be in opposition with each other for a contended life. They must be congruent with each other. Cognitive dissonance—holding a belief while acting in opposition to it—creates stress, dissatisfaction, resentment, anger, burnout.
  • The pursuit of money will increase happiness up to a (surprisingly low) point of about $15,000 per year, but by then a pattern has taken hold. We think, “getting more money made us happier in the past, so that must continue to be the case.” But that is like telling a starving man, “here, eat some food, that was good, right, so eat some more, and more, and more.”
  • “The wealthier the society, the more difficult it becomes to do worthwhile things without an immediate payoff. We are discouraged from doing anything that is not productive, either monetarily or in terms of pleasure.”
  • If you’re working in any creative endeavor, and are trying to get better, you need to be creating “a lot of crap.” Try things out, experiment, and you will learn what works and what doesn’t. If you’re not trying things out enough that you’re not creating “a lot of crap,” you’re also not learning enough to get really good.
  • Don’t attach stigma to failure. Or to naiveté.
  • People think money is needed for relationships, but it’s not. Trust is.
  • The parts of the brain that control wanting are different from the parts of the brain that control liking. Neurological evidence that we can want something that we don’t like. Hence we have cravings for things we don’t take pleasure in.
  • America’s fixation with career specialization as the highest good is a cultural norm, not necessarily an accurate or universal truth or reflective of what will lead to happiness. It is good for some, but should not carte blanche be prescribed for all.
  • Trust is strongly correlated with happiness.
  • You can’t start something new, a new career, a new way of life, without first letting go of the old. It’s like trying to pick up several more grocery bags when your hands are already full. Most likely the whole pile will just come crashing down.
  • Relationships are more important than the problem—whatever the issue is at the moment between two people.
  • It is possible to not only enjoy, but have fun at, things like mowing the lawn, going to your job, volunteering at a nursing home, etc.
  • Do not expect perfection, or even consistency, from other people or myself. Take the good and leave the bad. 
  • Envy is the enemy of happiness. Being around people with significantly more than one’s own financial means, while simultaneously not having enough for the basics, is a classic recipe for envy.
  • When I decide where to settle down, call that “home” and stop looking for something better. You can’t love a place with one foot hanging out the door.
  • Relationships, connections with other people, both the strong and weak ties, are the most important key to happiness.

* * *

1 thought on “33,040 Miles • The Geography of Bliss

Comments are closed.