Book Review of Hector and the Search for Happiness by François Lelord
My last review was a book about Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, whose “Essays”, written in the 16th century, have become classics of philosophy. We all know that the French have far more interest in philosophy than other nations, (just look at the lengthy Wikipedia list of French philosphers), and it is no surprise to discover that French bookshops have many titles on their shelves from the ultra-serious Foucoult and Derrida to the more accessible works such as this amusing little book, Hector and the Search for Happiness, written by psychiatrist, François Lelord.
Whether this book qualifies as “philosophy” or not, I’m not quite sure, but if philosophy isn’t about “the search for happiness”, then what is the point of it anyway?
I enjoyed reading RosyB of Vulpes Libris’s review of this book. Apparently she gave it to her boyfriend, who never reads books, and he couldn’t put it down. She enjoyed it herself but felt that while the author allow Hector to have some romantic adventures during his travels, she found herself annoyed by the rather two dimensional female characters.
Anyway, to get to the story – Hector, a young psychiatrist, becomes disillusioned with his profession as he realises that the majority of his patients don’t have much wrong with them other than an inability to be happy.
One of his patients tells him that he looks in need of a holiday and he decides to set off on a journey around the world looking for the keys to happiness. As he travels he meets many people, and begins to compile a list of 23 lessons which teach him the rules of happiness.
For example, on a flight to China, Hector is upgraded to business class and finds himself sitting next to a wealthy businessman. Hector comments on the space in business class seats, but he finds that the businessman was once upgraded to first class and can only think of the even better conditions there. Hector has enjoyed the experience of business class travel but begins to worry that next time he has to travel economy he will regret not being in business class. Cue the first lesson –
Lesson No. 1: Making comparisons can spoil your happiness.
And so we follow Hector around the world, through China, Africa and other countries (François Lelord is never too clear about where Hector actually is – in writing the review I went back through the book and found Hector often travelling but not always stating his destination.
However, this doesn’t matter too much, the point being that he meets all types of people, poor, wealthy, happy, sad, and finds plenty to mull over in his encounters, eventually building up his list of lessons.
Lesson No. 9: Happiness is doing a job you love
Lesson No. 10: Its harder to be happy in a country run by bad people
Lesson No. 11: Happiness is having a home and a garden of your own
. . . and so on.
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. And as I read on I began to remember some of Montaigne’s truisms and see the similarity with Hectors:
Unless you keep your mind busy with some definite subject that will bridle and control them, they throw themselves in disorder hither and yon in the vague field of imagination
A man who fears suffering is already suffering from what he fears
Nothing prevents happiness like the memory of happiness
The book is published by Gallic Press who are doing a great job of bringing some attractive French titles to the British market.
Apparently Hector has sold over a million copies world-wide and was a big hit in France and Germany. I think its attractive cover and appealing presentation will draw the attention of potential purchasers.
The editor of The Readers Loft, and pursuer of relatively interesting information, Simon has a Masters Degree in Creative Writing and Journalism from the University of Wales, and is a photo-journalist and writer whose written and photographic work has been represented by the AFP news agency and appeared in newspapers across Europe and Asia.