Two of my closest friends recently set out to travel the world. Along the way, they send out very long newsletters, detailing their trip. When I received the first one, rather than read the whole thing, I forwarded it to my partner, Yvette, and requested she give me the “clip notes” – which cracked her up, because she knew I actually meant “CliffsNotes.” Thus, I am dubbing this – my new, monthly book review – “Misti’s Clip Notes.”

In that spirit, welcome to the first installment – my review of The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner:

Eric Weiner is both pessimistic and has an insatiable curiosity for what makes people happy. On top of that, he is a talented writer with the rare ability to bring you right into his experience.

In Geography of Bliss,Weiner begins his journey in the Netherlands, where he meets Dutch professor Ruut Veenhoven, “the godfather of happiness research,” and spends hours pouring over data captured by the World Database of Happiness. Through these experiences, Weiner gains a large-scale understanding of the happiest places on the planet and what seems to make the people there so happy. (My favorite part: “A study found that moderate daily flatulence improves longevity.”)

Next, Weiner sets off to explore the happiest countries, as well as the two unhappiest, Moldova and Qatar.

In each country, he meets a variety of people, including (but not limited to): government officials, cab drivers, barbers, and lots of random people in pubs and cafés. He asks them all the same question: “Why are you so happy here?” (Or, in the case of Moldova and Qatar, “Why are you so unhappy?”)

Weiner shares their answers (which vary considerably) and provides insight into the lessons he’s learned as a self-proclaimed “grump.”

Here’s what I took away. To increase happiness:

  1. Be relational. Put time and energy into building relationships, connecting people, sharing about yourself, helping others, and giving back. As Weiner writes: “Social scientists estimate that about 70 percent of our happiness stems from our relationships, both quantity and quality, with friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors.”
  2. Smile more… authentically.
  3. Appreciate people who make a difference for you. Practice gratitude every day.
  4. Live as close to nature as possible and spend plenty of time outside. This is one I personally live by. I schedule this time (and protect it) every week.
  5. Trust. If you don’t trust people, don’t spend time with them. Weiner explains, “Several studies have found that trust – more than income or even health – is the biggest factor in determining our happiness.”
  6. Don’t flush your toilet after 10 p.m. Oh, wait, this had to do with community and structure in Switzerland. The point is simply that we should all find ways to feel useful in our communities.
  7. Practice patience. Weiner writes, “Affluence breeds impatience, and impatience undermines well being.” He also quotes E.F. Schumacher: “The richer the society, the more difficult it becomes to do worthwhile things without immediate payoff.”
  8. Let go of your expectations. Expectations are dangerous. Decide to reach excellence, work at it, and then appreciate the results.
  9. Suppress envy, either by hiding what you have or sharing it.
  10. Compete with a collaborative mindset. As Weiner points out, “The roots of the word ‘compete’ are the Latin competure, which means to ‘seek with.’”
  11. Make failure a goal. He writes, “The crap allows the good stuff to grow.” (Failure is fertilizer. Love that!)
  12. Be naïve. Approach all tasks with a sense of naivety, and you’ll always learn/grow from the experience. And get this, you won’t have to feel bad about not knowing it all. What a relief!
  13. Watch who you compare yourself to. Is such a comparison to your benefit, and is it even fair?
  14. Take ownership. If something bothers you, do something about it.
  15. Count your acts of kindness … every single week.

My biggest take-away: Knowing that small changes, added up over time, make a tremendous impact, I plan to start noticing when I have unrealistic expectations (which usually show up as irritation) and focusing heavily on authentically building friendships.