Title: Hector and the Search for Happiness
Author: François Lelord
Genre: Adult Fiction, Contemporary, Psychology, Philosophy, Culture, Self Help (the most genres I’ve ever given any one book, I think)
‘The basic mistake people make is to think that happiness is the goal’
Hector is a successful young psychiatrist. He’s very good at treating patients in real need of his help but many people he sees have no health problems: they’re just deeply dissatisfied with their lives. 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 happy.
It is a strange little book. It is a short read – certainly readable in a day – and it managed to both enlighten and infuriate me all at once.
The narrative, despite following a psychiatrist, is told in basic, layman’s terms, and at no point is there jargon (the little there is of it) left unexplained. In this sense, anyone could pick up this book, which is written from Hector’s perspective, and understand his world. This was one of only two criticisms I have. While the style of narrative allows for the book to be accessed by a wider audience, I felt constantly patronised. I’m clearly no psychiatrist, but with a basic knowledge of people and psychology, I would have appreciated the story more if it had been told in the appropriate voice – I had expected to find the text challenging, something I tend to enjoy in books of this sort (The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, for example, got this spot on). Narrating a grown man in such a child-like way just had a kind of uncanniness to it.
Happiness. We’re tearing our hair out to try to find a definition of it, for heaven’s sake.
Despite my issues with the narrative, I found Hector’s motives really interesting. I do agree that there are a lot of fortunate yet unhappy people, and I think increasingly with developments in technology, we are becoming self-absorbed and the pressure to be happy (and also appear happy) is high. With our peers portraying their happiness on social media constantly, it is almost like happiness has become more of an image than a feeling. Hector finishes his journey with a number of lessons learnt from the people he meets and the experiences he has. I got the impression that if we all stopped trying so hard to achieve happiness, we would all be a lot happier for it; it is a really important message, one that is put across by Bertrand Russell in The Conquest of Happiness (a book I highly recommend). It is fun to see Hector stumbling into ridiculous situations, and finding ways of drawing inspiration from them for his study. In this sense, the naivety of the narrative made it more light-hearted, and the silliness of it is probably why they thought it would make a good film.
Here are a few of my favourite lessons from Hector:
Making comparisons can spoil your happiness
Many people see happiness only in their future.
Since it influenced my enjoyment of the story so much, I must mention the other major criticism I had of the book: Hector’s attitude towards his girlfriend. Although it is clear he is dissatisfied with elements of his long-term relationship, he cheats on his girlfriend not once but twice, and is constantly enjoying the beautiful women around him (as in, way too much). In a way, I see that this shows how despite his qualifications and experience, he is actually just a human ruled first and foremost by his primal urges. However, to add to this already annoying series of events, Hector feels very little guilt over his actions, and it is easy to assume he returned to his life without ever telling his girlfriend. Considering the enlightenment I found in Hector’s search, it was certainly dampened by his attitude towards women and sex.
On the whole, the good outweigh the bad, and I think this book could make anyone rethink their perceptions on happiness. I finished the book feeling uplifted and positive, the lessons learnt by Hector taken on board for my own life.
Star Rating: ☆☆☆☆ (4/5)