Rainn Wilson wanted to find inner happiness. So he got on a plane. Many planes.
The actor, who memorably played scheming, egotistical Dwight Schrute on “The Office” has crisscrossed the world to explore how people in different countries find their glee.
The result is “Rainn Wilson and the Geography of Bliss,” a new Peacock series that follows Wilson looking for some deep answers as he takes in a drag show in Thailand and gets in a boxing ring in Ghana.
“I wanted it to be a personal voyage of like, ‘Hey, can this make me happier? Can I share my journey? Can I share my story?’” he said. “But, at the same time, I wanted it to be something for everyone — you could feel like you’re going on that trip, too.”
Armed with global data on happiness, Wilson visits countries both high and low in happiness, digging into philosophy and history and his own story. He quotes philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and scrubs elephants.
In Iceland, which is high on the happiness index, he goes skinny-dipping in a cold fjord, plays with adorable lambs, eats ice cream and swallows a bottle of cod liver oil. He asks if the Icelandic embrace of being flexible in the face of an ever-changing climate is important to happiness.
“Iceland is a land of contradictions. I’ve never met more individualistic folks than the Icelanders. They’re all so quirky and wonderful and interesting. And at the same time, they really love their collectivity,” Wilson said. “There was this incredible balance in Iceland between radical individuality and personal expression and also really trusting the collective and feeling part of the collective. We haven’t worked this out in America yet.”
The series is based on “The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World,” a book by Eric Weiner, a former NPR international correspondent who admits he was a little nervous when Wilson first came on board.
“He was Dwight from ‘The Office’ — goofy, funny Dwight. And I thought, ‘Oh, no, really?’ But then I quickly discovered that Rainn Wilson is not Dwight, and I’ve had a chance to get to know him a bit,” Weiner said. “And he is a very thoughtful, very curious, actually very serious guy, the way a lot of comedians and comedic actors are.”
Wilson starts the series by revealing on camera that he comes from an unhappy family, has battled depression starting in his teens and has anxiety disorder. It was key for him to acknowledge that to fans and viewers.
“It’s super-important to share your struggle,” he said. “In the current environment and the Instagram-ification of American life, everyone looks happy and well-curated and in awesome locations and coping perfectly. And someone’s at home alone suffering.”
If Iceland is on top, the show also visits Bulgaria, which ranks low on happiness. Wilson explains that the country’s long history of being subjugated — by Ottomans, Nazis and Soviets — has led to mistrust in government and strangers. Perhaps, then, self-expression brings joy and so might trust in the authorities?
“I’m realizing why I feel so at ease in this place,” he says on the show, “I think I’m Bulgarian. I’m a worrier. I’m a pessimist. For as long as I can remember, I’ve walked a constant tightrope in avoidance of bad feelings.”
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