Name three good things every day. They could be small, but there have to be at least three. It was this advice given to author Lisa Napoli in a “happiness class” that put her on the road to Bhutan, the “happiest place on Earth.” Radio Shangri La: My Accidental Journey to the Happiest Kingdom on Earth introduced me to a place I knew hardly anything about, so the topic is what initially attracted me to the book.
Lisa Napoli is at the point in her life where she has accepted the fact that she’s probably going to stay single. Despite previous relationships, she’s made a family out of her close friends. Through a chance meeting with a friend of a friend, Lisa finds herself volunteering at a startup radio station in the kingdom of Bhutan, the first in the country. Bhutan only got televisions in the past few years, so she had no idea what she was getting herself into, especially as a veteran journalist. In her six weeks there, she falls in love with the Kuzoo FM employees, the Himalayan mountains and the country’s priority of happiness.
While Lisa has had her own personal tragedies, like being raped, getting a divorce in her twenties and being laid off, they never play a large role in the narrative and are not written in a way that tries to make the reader feel sorry for her. As a career journalist, she writes with a political knowledge of her surroundings instead of the drippy, overly descriptive style of some travel narratives. It’s hard not to compare solo female travel stories to Eat, Pray, Love, but Radio Shangri La is its antithesis. Napoli has accepted a future without a husband and even buys herself a ring, saying, “I am married to myself. Who else do I really need?” While there are a few love interests in this book, “the one” plays no role in this book. It’s not about the search for a happy ending, but rather a search for a purpose, something to devote the rest of her life to.
I found Napoli as the narrator to be very easy to relate to, which is what made this book so enjoyable for me. Napoli intertwines tales from her twenties with those of Ngawang, one of the Kuzoo employees, who comes to visit her in Los Angeles. It’s interesting to compare their two stories. The lesson I took away from Radio Shangri La is that both Napoli and Bhutan have something figured out: happiness is more important than money, belongings or anything else.
She says, “By now, I’ve learned that the ingredients for happiness are simple: giving, loving, and contentment with who you are.”
If you loved Eric Weiner’s Geography of Bliss, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Radio Shangri La.