Hector and the Search for Happiness

First of all, let me start by saying that this is my 100th book review and 200th post in general (what?! I have an extra 100 posts on here that aren’t about books?!?)!  I never thought I’d make it this far. To celebrate, (coincidentally) here’s a review of a book about happiness.  Enjoy, and thanks for stopping by!


Hector is a young, fairly successful psychiatrist who is particularly emphatic towards his patients. However, it disturbed him to realize that more and more,  most of his patients weren’t actually suffering from any real medical psychosis;  they just seemed unsatisfied with their lives and were generally unhappy, even though they didn’t really have anything to be unhappy about.  Being the emphatic person that he was, he soon felt that maybe he too was a bit unhappy with his life.  This realization didn’t sit too well with Hector, so in order to re-evaluate his life, and to help his patients as well, he decided to travel to different countries to try to figure out what made other people happy, and maybe, even find out what “happiness” truly meant.

The book is written in a way that no actual cities or countries are identified by name.  Instead, the author, gives clues by giving general, popular descriptions of the places and the people living there.  From his hometown, Paris, Hector heads to Hong Kong, with an idea that if anyone would know what happiness meant, it would be ancient, wise Chinese men with long, white beards (yes, unfortunately, Hector tended to romanticize other people and cultures).  During his visit, Hector meets an old school friend, an old monk, and not only finds happiness in the form of a young, beautiful Chinese girl, he also sadness and heartbreak.

His next stop is Haiti (again, I’m guessing here), where he meets a fellow doctor who treats mothers and their children.  While in Haiti, he meets a drug cartel boss, gets kidnapped and held hostage by local criminals, and celebrates life with another young, beautiful woman.  Somewhere along the way, he learns some more about happiness.

His second-to-the-last stop in his trip is the United States, somewhere in California – I’m guessing, Los Angeles, where he meets up with a renowned Professor of Happiness, to show him the list he has compiled in his travels and to ask for some insights on what made people happy.  There Hector learns that maths and sciences can be used to measure happiness, and that sometimes, some people are just born naturally happier than others.

To end his journey, he returns to Hong Kong to fulfill a promise he made, to tie-up some loose ends, and to connect different people he met during his travels to one other.

During his travels he wrote down what he thought made other people happy (or what made him happy at the time), and other insights on happiness.  Here are some of the the things he observed:

Lesson no. 1:  Making comparisons can spoil your happiness.

Lesson no. 2:  Happiness often comes when least expected.

Lesson no. 5:  Sometimes, happiness is not knowing the whole story.

Lesson no. 13:  Happiness is being useful to others.

Lesson no. 21:  Rivalry poisons happiness.

And so on….

There are 22 or 23 of these little lessons / insights on happiness that Hector writes down after a particular experience or observation.  The list included everything that could (in Hector’s view) possibly make people happy, including material wealth, family, friends, having a job and doing it well, and abstract things like enjoying / appreciating things and places.

Hector and the Search for Happiness is really an inspirational / self-help book disguised as fiction.  The author, also a psychiatrist, Francois Lelord writes in the introduction of the book that the idea of the Hector character came to him while on a trip to Hong Kong to re-evaluate his life.  So, in a way, it’s sort of based on the author’s real life experiences.  Hector’s (mis)adventures and sexcapades in the novel makes me wonder how much of it is fiction, and how much of it really happened.

The book is written in a very simple, almost childish way, though Hector’s experiences in the novel are very mature and “adult.”  The contrast in style and content makes it hard for me to decide whether I should recommend this to young people.  On the one hand, there are a lot of insights on happiness that though obvious, could be inspiring to young people.  Then again, sometimes I feel that  Hector’s ideas on love and sex seem a bit too casual, and this may lead young readers to questions his morals and values.  In spite of that, Hector and the Search for Happiness is a good little book to read whether you’re searching for the meaning of happiness or just in the mood for a short, simple, quirky book.

While reading Hector and the Search for Happiness, I got to thinking about my own list of things that made me happy. Not very easy to do, but one thing came to mind immediately. What makes me happy? Books makes me happy (as if you had to ask)!!

What about you, what are the things that make you happy?


Hector and the Search for Happiness (2010) – Francois LeLord

Penguin; 164 pages

Personal rating:  2/5

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