Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Happiness and Cold Places

I've been reading this book, The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner, on and off for about a year now. This is one hundred percent my fault as a flaky reader, the book itself is extremely interesting.

Eric, a foreign correspondent for NPR who was all too sick of catastrophes and bad news, took it upon himself to research happiness. The science of it, the theories, where it thrives, what makes it survive, and how different cultures perceive it. He does so by traveling to the source - ten different countries that are either at the top of most "Happiest Countries" lists or are often associated with the subject.

The portion of the book that I read today was about Iceland, and throughout I found a few similarities to Minnesota. Both are freaking cold and get little to no sun in the winter, but the people are generally happy. They have embraced their cycle of seasons and have come to enjoy it.

The author points out that research has found happiness to correspond with colder climates. This is one of the conundrums he spends a lot of the book contemplating. An interesting theory that he mentions in the Iceland chapter is the "Get-Along-or-Die Theory," which is exactly what it sounds like. In warm weather, nothing requires a group effort. Resources come easy. But in colder weather, it is much more necessary to cooperate to ensure survival.

This idea is rooted in times when it was necessary to work together ensure a good harvest and food supply for winter, but remains a habit of Minnesotans. People are very likely to help out if they see that anyone is in need. I'm always hearing stories of these little good deeds, or even experiencing them. After an (almost) experience a few weeks ago, I can see how this "help others" mindset is closely related to survival. On my way home during a horrific blizzard I saw a school bus stranded on the side of the freeway. I was completely ready to pull over and pile in as many kids as could fit into my car, to get them safely out of the cold. Luckily there wasn't anyone in the bus, but it could have quickly become a matter of survival for them.

Another interesting thing about Iceland that contributes to the happiness there is the widespread creativity. The author calls what is going on in Iceland a Golden Age, and loosely compares it to the Renaissance and other great eras. Evidently everyone's a writer, everyone goes through multiple occupations, everyone is an artist of sorts, and they are working together to form their culture. There is no envy involved, they seem to be in a sort of creative harmony.

I've seen similar levels of creativity in Minnesota. It seems like anyone I meet on a given day or night is creative in some form. I'm not sure what the cause is - it could be the temperatures, the seasons, the landscape, or maybe it's this inspirational energy that comes from living among each other. I am amazed at what I have seen of local artists, musicians, and writers, and it just keeps coming. It really does make me happy. :)

P.S. You should probably know that there is an actual World Database of Happiness that is dedicated to the research of happiness. No joke.

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