I'm most happy to heartily recommend Eric Weiner's book, "The Geography of Bliss," to all fellow travelers interested in the study of happiness.
A long-time foreign correspondent for NPR, Weiner's premise for the book is that he's grown weary of the the new-age approach to happiness--that it's holy grail to be found deep, deep within our selves--and decides instead to approach happiness as a place. He travels to various parts of the world where the populations rank high on the happiness scale (and a couple that rank very low) to see what he can learn about the condition of happiness.
The book reads like part travel writing, part depth psychology, part philosophy and part personal essay, and it is a wonderful read, front to back. It's sprinkled with juicy quotes from a variety of folks, and like all good books will give you dozens of additional books you want to read.
It's not too much of a surprise to find that Wiener, in his investigation of places, arrives at some qualities of happiness that actually speak to the soul. I kept a running list of some of the items he spots as elements of happiness in the various places he visits:
Freedom of failure
There are interesting observations on American culture to be had here. Nowhere else in the world, Weiner points out, are people so intent on having their way that they would find it necessary to have automobiles where driver and passenger are entitled to separate climate controls, or beds in which each partner gets to choose their own firmness level. Oddly enough, such freedom seems to make no one happy, and in fact interferes with genuine relationship, one of the keys to happiness.
Particularly interesting is the chapter on Iceland. Perhaps is because of my own Scandinavian background, but there seemed much to be learned from the example of this small country, where people are not only allowed to fail, but cherished for it.
Good book, highly recommended.