Adam Grant, Wharton professor, author of GIVE AND TAKE and ORIGINALS
You've written two witty, wise books about how our countries shape our lives-- one on happiness and one on creativity. What culture most impressed you most as supporting both bliss and genius?

And I can't resist asking: since you're a self-professed grump, if you could only have one, which would you choose?
Good question. Not many cultures, in fact, manage to nurture both. I think that’s because at the heart of the creative impulse lies a certain discontentment. Paradise (if such a place exists) would be the least creative in the world. Why create anything when life is perfect?

I can think of one country, though, that manages to be both happy and creative: Iceland. It consistently ranks in the top ten of happiest countries in the world (despite its economic woes) and is also an extremely creative place. Think Bjork and Sigur Ros and all of the other musicians to emerge from this tiny nation (pop: 320,000). They publish more books per capita in Iceland than anywhere else, and have a telling expression: “Better to go barefoot than without books. ”

If I had to choose between a happy life and a creative life, I’d choose the latter. Happiness—at least the smiley-face version of our age--- is not enough. Ultimately, I think a meaningful life is what we crave, and creative expression of some kind is an important part of that life.

I do think it’s possible to achieve an accommodation between the two, and again I turn to Iceland for wisdom. In Reykjavik, I met an accomplished composer named Hilmar who seemed both creative and happy. When I asked him about this he told me that, yes, he was a happy person but one who “cherishes my melancholia.” I can’t do any better than that.
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