A Different Way to Travel
I’ve just started taking a trip around the world. And I’m doing it relatively inexpensively and definitely easily–by reading a book called The Atlas of Happiness: The Global Secrets of How to be Happy, by Helen Russell.
The author, a British journalist, now living in Denmark (she also wrote a book called A Year of Living Danishly), writes about what constitutes happiness in 30 cultures around the world. She selects a word or phrase that particularly characterizes “what it means to live a good life” in that culture. The phrase she chooses for Italy is “dolce far niente,” a sweet “soul-expanding celebration of doing nothing.” For Japan, it’s “wabi-sabi,” which is “an appreciation of things the way they are; a reveling in the texture and complexity of real life and the beauty of imperfection.” And on it goes.
The book pops–it is colorful, with delightful illustrations and graphics, and each section is a nice bite-size length for an easy read–about 6-8 pages, including how to use this particular approach in our own lives. Inspired by Bhutan’s focus on Gross National Happiness, rather than Gross National Product, for example, the author suggests, “Remember: there is no way to happiness, happiness is the way. The journey is it, so travel well.”
Each section is sprinkled with interviews with citizens who give their take on how their lives are influenced by the phrase. But I’m also learning more than just about the phrase. In the section for Germany, for example, whose phrase is “gemutlichkeit,” meaning “‘cozy,’ ‘comfort-inducing’ or relating to a sense of belonging and social acceptance,” I learned about the importance of hard work done well. And who knew that the Germans have something called a balcony vacation…enjoying life on your own balcony instead of flying off to another locale.
I like Russell’s style–it’s light, funny, conversational, jaunty, and informative. I’m reading the book by choosing what country I feel like visiting that day, enjoying the short “upper” hit of learning that ensues.
I’m only about half way around the world, so to speak, and I’m excited to continue the journey. Today’s visit? Who knows…it might be “Craic” in Ireland or how about “Jolly” in England? Or maybe even “Federerism in Switzerland?