The philosopher, Eric Weiner, is the author of three bestselling books on philosophy – “The Socrates Express: In Search of Life Lessons from Dead Philosophers”, “The Geography of Genius: Lessons from the World’s Most Creative Places” and “The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World”. In this entertaining essay, he explains that even when we can’t travel, we can reminisce about the past and thus rediscover what travel taught us about this world. He lists his five favourite takeaways from his travels around the world:
Iceland: “Iceland is a remote island-nation, cold and dark for much of the year. Yet it is one of the world’s happiest. Why?
In a word: trust. It is the most precious form of social capital, and Iceland is awash in the stuff. During my visit more than a decade ago, I witnessed this trust surplus firsthand: strangers helping strangers dig their cars out of a snowstorm, six-year-olds walking to school alone in the winter darkness. Icelanders feel safe and connected.”
Greece: “Modern Greeks derive daily pleasure from their ancient past. Ruins like the Acropolis aren’t just beauty manifested in stone — they’re a reminder of what I call “the possibility of possibility.” Greeks don’t just remember their nation’s past glories, but its myriad obstacles overcome: wars, famines, and, yes, pandemics. Looking to the past provides perspective on the cyclical nature of highs and lows.”
Thailand: “The Thai word for fun, sanuk, denotes more than mindless diversion. It’s an ethos, a way of life. Whether sanuk takes the form of gentle teasing, clever wordplay, or plain old silliness, it’s considered a foundation of social harmony.
“If it’s not sanuk, it’s not worth doing,” Sumet Jumsai, one of Thailand’s leading architects, told me when I was researching my book The Geography of Bliss.”
India: “I first stepped foot on Indian soil some two decades ago as a correspondent for NPR. I soon learned that any attempt at controlling the vagaries of fate, or bureaucracy, was futile. My three years in the country schooled me in the underappreciated art of letting go. That means, first and foremost, letting go of expectations.
In the classic spiritual poem, the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says to Arjun, in effect: “Devote 100 percent effort to the task at hand. Yet have precisely zero percent invested in the outcome.” That is not easy — ours is a results-driven culture — but it is necessary, especially now, when so much lies beyond our control.”
Portugal: “Most of us don’t think of sadness as a beneficial emotion. The Portuguese do. They don’t seek sadness, but when it arrives, as it inevitably does, they accept it and, in an odd but illuminating way, enjoy it.
Portugal’s “joyful sadness” is encapsulated in a single word: saudade. Saudade is a longing, an ache for a person, place, or experience that once brought great happiness. What makes saudade tolerable, pleasant even, is that “it is a very sharable feeling,” the Portuguese publisher José Prata told me. “I’m inviting you to share at the table of my sadness.””
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