"I haven't been to Phoenix in a long time and, then, only briefly," Weiner told me when I called to talk about how our town might rate on the happy scale. "But really, the thing about judging happiness within the United States is that it's hard to come up with anything definitive about a state or a city that makes a difference, happiness-wise. It's all the same culture."

In other words, Americans are Americans are Americans, and folks in Rhode Island are likely to have the same notions about happiness as those of us sweating through another summer in Scottsdale. Although Weiner admits that he's seen some research indicating that the further west one travels in the U.S., the happier people get, his theory is that different cultures experience happiness differently; that while changing your location can improve your mood, you have to take it farther away than, say, Seattle.

"If you hate the rain and you're unhappy in Seattle, it's not necessarily about the weather," Weiner told me. "You can learn to love the rain; you can live happily in Phoenix even if you don't love strip malls. But I think geography and culture are the real co-factors in finding happiness. The differences within countries aren't as great as the difference between countries."

Eric Weiner
Eric Weiner


Read the rest of Summer Guide 2008.

In other words, if I'm unhappy, it's not just because it's hot here. It's because I, an American, think my happiness is linked to the weather. To prove this point, Weiner ends his journey in Miami, after having visited countries far and wide, where more enlightened cultures bother to distinguish between climate and contentedness. Or do they?

"One man's paradise can be another's hell," Weiner writes, relating a story about European missionaries visiting Greenland several centuries ago in an effort to convert the natives to Christianity. The missionaries offered the pagans a choice: Either convert or spend all eternity in Hell, a place where it's very, very hot all of the time.

"The Greenlanders surveyed the frozen Arctic tundra that was their home," Weiner writes, "and replied, 'We'll take Hell, thank you.'"

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