the geography of bliss

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Tonight I finished an absolutely wonderful little gem of a book by Eric Weiner (pronounced whiner, you perverts) called The Geography of Bliss. Sorry I can’t underline the book title because WordPress is foolish and doesn’t have that tool. Anyway, it’s a great book about this man’s journey around the globe to find the happiest countries and their secrets. Perfect book for me to read. As I went through the book there were quotes left and right that I loved, and some of the most profound writing was found in the book’s epilogue.  One of those things was a quote from a women who lives in Asheville, NC and she said in response to her home there:

“I respond to a sense of place.”  

Ah, this I understand greatly. But the quotes continue. Next came a quote from a guru in India, after the author, Eric, asked at a conference of sorts if happiness was the greatest achievement the guru said this:

“Love is more important than happiness. Not only does love trump happiness, but in a competition between truth and love, love wins. We must strive for a love that does not bring distortions.”

Ah, this I understand greatly as well. But yet again, the quotes continue, and this, is my personal favorite. On the very last page of the book Eric describes a moment he had with a man named Karma Ura, in Bhutan who said this:

“There is no such thing as personal happiness. Happiness is one hundred percent relational.” Eric goes on to finally understand what Karma meant by this saying- “Our happiness is completely and utterly intertwined with other people…Happiness is not a noun or a verb. It’s a conjunction. Connective tissue.” 

Now this, THIS is what I’m talking about. When the woman from Asheville said she responds to a sense of place, I think of my place in Thessaloniki. With its welcoming bay with a boardwalk sweeping for miles, the city crashing like waves behind it mixing old with new, I find my place. My place is at a cafe at the peak of the city drinking hot chocolate soaking in the glory that is the Greek life. It’s at this very cafe that I understood that love is greater than happiness. One thing not mentioned in The Geography of Bliss was the utter notion that happiness often spawns from love. I did not merely like the city of Thessaloniki, but I fell in love with it, and with that came happiness. This too was true with him (Xristos or Kostas), my love gave way to greater happiness. The best and most beautiful of all though is that happiness is relational. This is completely correct. When I got to Thessaloniki on January 27, 2009, I was alone. Entirely. And because of that, I was absolutely miserable. Then I met Lauren Stockwell and Vana, and we became close. My happiness grew exponentially. The larger my network got in Thessaloniki the happier I became. Not only was I learning to love the city around me, but all its people as well.

Part of the book talks about how important trust is in a factor of happiness for a country.This totally makes sense to me. Had you transplanted me away from Thessaloniki for even a week and put me in Athens, I would have been mortified. There’s no trust there. At least for me. The people are sneaky and conniving, always trying to snatch more away from the tourists. The culture has died, with help from so many attractions, the purest form of Greek life isn’t there. They speak English first there, not Greek. yuck.

Thessaloniki was my place. I trusted its every nook and cranny, with a few exceptions (sorry Albanians). In my last week in Greece, my nights were often filled with walks by myself at 2,3 and 4 in the morning. And if you hadn’t guessed, that’s not exactly a smiled upon task in most study abroad offices. But I did. I felt safe. I felt at home. Happiness is something that comes from love. Not only for a place, but for a people, a culture. I love the place, people and culture of Thessaloniki.

The beautifully intertwined lives of students and slow moving pappous (grandpas), the smell of cigarettes and frappes. It was a testament to Greek life saying, “we have been this way for 2000 years, and we shall continue.” This confidence is truly believable, though so much of Greek life is unstable.

The most precious of my thoughts from this book was this. When Eric asked the woman who lived in Asheville if it was her home, she hesitated and responded  that it was. Earlier in the book Eric encountered a man in Iceland who said, you can find your true home by asking yourself where you want to die. The woman who lived in Asheville said she wanted to die in Vermont, where she grew up. That was her home. This puzzled me. Well okay, in an odd way it puzzled me. I thought about this same question and it dawned on me. I may be an American raised in rural Iowa, but my home is Thessaloniki. Even though the thought of dying in a hospital there (which I will tell you about another time) is painful, I’d rather be in Greece. —long sigh— Yea, that’s absolutely right. I would absolutely rather die in Greece. I guess this shows me not only my heart but my mind are both at home in Thessaloniki.

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