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The happiest place on earth

Can geography determine happiness or is happiness simply a state of mind?
Tiffany Gee Lewis, Deseret News Modified: July 28, 2014 at 6:35 pm •  Published: July 30, 2014

It’s a happy time here in Minnesota. The summer wildflowers are at their showiest. Gardens are in full production mode. The landscape is a riot of green, and each of our 10,000 lakes has warmed to a swimmable temperature.

All summer I sing praises to my Minnesota home. So do my neighbors. We revel in the sunshine. We love Minnesota!

Yet, there is a sense of impending doom. The days are already shortening and the sun is swinging lower in the sky. Six months from now we’ll be combing through brochures for the Maldives and checking on real estate in Aruba.

Most of us probably have a place in our heads where we think we’ll be supremely happy. My oldest son has a hankering for Utah, the state where he was born. I swear allegiance to the Midwest, but have a secret love affair with the Pacific Northwest. My husband misses the moist, balmy days of a Miami winter. Yet another son proclaims, almost daily, that Disney's Magic Kingdom truly is "the happiest place on earth."

Can geography determine happiness? Are there places, within the U.S. and without, that can make us happier? I’ve lived in eight of the 50 U.S. states and traveled a great deal in and out of the country. It is not an exhaustive sampling, but it has raised my curiosity about the tie between location and happiness.

I recently plowed my way through the book “The Geography of Bliss” by Eric Weiner, eager to discover, as the subtitle proclaims, “One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places on Earth.”

The book has its flaws (and warning: some irreverence), but his discoveries have kept me pondering. Here’s what he found:

1. Connection to nature brings happiness. You don’t have to live in the Swiss Alps to be happy (although that helps), but if you can find ways to appreciate your natural surroundings, you will be happier.

2. Money is not a barometer of happiness (surprise, surprise!). Some of the wealthiest countries (such as Qatar) are not happy places, whereas places like Bhutan and much of Latin America report high levels of happiness despite their humble conditions.

3. Culture, and cultural identity, add as surprising level of happiness. A rooted identity and a common story contribute to happiness.

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