Are you happy? Seriously, are you happy?
Hector thinks you must be careful when you ask people whether they’re happy; it’s a question that can upset people a great deal (page 15).
I came across this book which I fell for the cartoon cover of a serious topic. I read a travel book called “Geography of Bliss, The grumpiest man on the planet goes in search of the happiest place in the world” in early 2008, which is about a grumpy man in search of happiness around the world and for every country he seems to find a different definition for happiness. It was hilarious and one of my favourite books. This book seems to fall on similar line so I thought, “Why not?”
Hector is a successful young psychiatrist. He’s very good at treating patients in read need of help. But many people he sees are just deeply dissatisfied with their lives. Hector can’t do much for them, and it’s beginning to depress him.
So when a patient tells him he looks in need of a holiday. Hector decides to set off round the world to find out what makes people everywhere happy (and sad), and whether there is such a thing as the secret of true happiness.
Being an intensive self-help reader in the past decade of my life certainly made me doubt if I’ll ever learn anything new from a book like this. Surely I have heard all there is to know about searching for happiness?
Interestingly I learnt a new thing or two in his list of 23 lessons which he compiled as he travels. Unlike … Lelord doesn’t tell you exactly where Hector has been. I gather the first one is in Hong Kong (or it could be Shanghai) where places are swarmed with expatriates and Investment bankers, and then a country in Africa and then America.
For lesson number 1 in happiness, which I am often guilty of, was illustrated in the following example:
On a flight to China, Hector is upgraded to business class and sat beside this wealthy businessman. Hector expressed his happiness in upgrading from the economy class to business class whereas the businessman, due to his past experience of being upgraded to first class, complains about not given the opportunity to be upgraded to first class! So here is the first lesson, ready?
Lesson No. 1: Making comparisons can spoil your happiness.
Ah… it’s not about seeking inner peace, doing little things that pleases you, but a practical advice was dished out simply as “Stop making comparison with people who are better than you are” and you will be more happier in life.
You’ll be relieved to know that this book does not use big words no jargon. Just simply plain English. Well done to Lelord and another doubly well done to translator Lorenza Gracia. I’ll give you an example how this book explains an economic term of embargo and the implication of it, with a little sardonic humour:
An embargo is when a country isn’t allowed to buy from or sell to other countries, so that it becomes even poorer, and the inhabitants get angry and this forces their country’s leaders to behave properly or resign. The problem is that it never works, because in general the leaders of those countries couldn’t care less if their people starve, even the babies, whereas the people who voted for the embargo come from countries where people and babies are looked after, and they can’t understand it, and so the embargo continues and the babies grow thinner and their mothers are very sad.
It hadn’t been good for the trees either, because since the country was unable to buy oil or gas due to the embargo, people living in towns had had to go and cut wood in order to build fires to do their cooking. As a result, in many places there were no more trees. And this meant that the rain had washed away the soil and all that was left was big hills or rock and rocks aren’t much use unless you like collecting them. (page 69)
So as Hector encounter love and near death experience, he came up with many observations (not rules, I would say) about happiness:
Lesson no. 4: Many people think that happiness comes from having more power or money.
Lesson no. 5: Sometimes happiness is not knowing the whole story.
Lesson no. 7: It’s a mistake to think that happiness is the goal.
Lesson no. 12: It’s harder to be happy in a country run by bad people.
Lesson no. 22: Women care more than men about making others happy.
So on and so forth….
What I then find a bit meaty was having Hector discussing with research scientists about how happy and depressed people’s brains are wired. The novel presents some fascinating research findings and why some people have more gifts for happiness than others which sort of sums up why some people seems more happy and positive than the others.
This book has sold over a million copies world-wide and was a big hit in France and Germany, which shows people would rather read a fable than being told what they should do in a self-help book to feel happier. Imagine my surprise when I saw this book is about to be adapted to big screen starring Simon Pegg as Hector! Seriously?
Without the last piece of news, I was quite adamant that I will read “Hector and the Secrets of Love” and “Hector and the Search for Lost Time” one day. It is charming and a great fun for a weekend afternoon read.
Paperback. Publisher: Gallic books 2010; Length: 181 pages; Setting: Somewhere in China, Africa and America. Source: Westminster library copy. Finished reading at: 29th November 2012. Translated by Lorenza Garcia.
A common reader: While I wouldn’t say this is the greatest book I’ve ever read, its a light read, but it did make me think that perhaps there are some values which I need to place a little more emphasis on.
Vulpes Libris: Easy to read, clever, dry, humorous and original: Hector and the Search for Happiness is a lot of fun and a bit more besides. It is a shame that the ending didn’t quite deliver. But, whether you’re an illiterate computer geek (like him) or a raging hairy Feminist harpy (like me): the journey itself should have something to interest and amuse everyone.
Limkimtong: This novel is easy to read and it is relaxing considering the subject matter is what people want to get a handle on. The lessons on happiness are well weaved into the story plot and it is not contrived. You can feel and discern the happiness or otherwise as Hector relates the story of this journey.
About the author:
Lelord studied medicine and psychology; after getting his doctoral degree in 1985, he was a post-doctorate researcher with Robert Liberman at the University of California, Los Angeles. After that, he worked as an attending physician at Hôpital Necker (which is affiliated with Descartes University) in Paris for two years. In 1989 he opened up his own practice which he closed down in 1996 to work as an advisor on stress and job satisfaction for several companies. Since 2004, he has been working as a psychiatrist in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Following its European success, Penguin Group (USA) acquired the rights to publish Lelord’s debut novel in the United States of America. “Hector and the Search for Happiness” was released on August 31, 2010. This was followed by “Hector and the Secrets of Love” on January 1, 2011 and “Hector and the Search for Lost Time” on July 31, 2012.