HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS

Francois Lelord

Hector is a successful young psychiatrist with the right spectacles, the right office furniture, and all the right medications at his disposal but he feels like a failure. His patients—an urban, educated, and seemingly privileged class of people—are persistently unhappy, and despite his excellent training and sympathetic ear, Hector doesn’t know how to truly help them. Even worse, he finds himself becoming increasingly drained and dissatisfied by his own life, including his uncertain relationship with an equally successful pharmaceutical marketing professional named Clara.

Ready for a break, Hector books a vacation with a mission: He will travel the world in search of what makes people happy or unhappy.

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Hector is a successful young psychiatrist with the right spectacles, the right office furniture, and all the right medications at his disposal but he feels like a failure. His patients—an urban, educated, and seemingly privileged class of people—are persistently unhappy, and despite his excellent training and sympathetic ear, Hector doesn’t know how to truly help them. Even worse, he finds himself becoming increasingly drained and dissatisfied by his own life, including his uncertain relationship with an equally successful pharmaceutical marketing professional named Clara.

Ready for a break, Hector books a vacation with a mission: He will travel the world in search of what makes people happy or unhappy. Since Clara is too busy with work, he sets out on his own, stopping first in China to visit his old school friend Édouard. Through Édouard, a lonely businessman trapped on the money-making treadmill, he learns one of his first lessons—that no matter how fine the wine, happiness can’t really be bought. He also meets a young woman, Ying Li, who teaches him about love, and an elderly monk who questions the very nature of his journey but invites him to return when he’s completed it.

From there, Hector travels to Africa to visit another friend, a doctor working with impoverished patients. Here again, Hector finds plenty of new inspiration in his study of happiness, from a meal with a local family to cheerful conversations in the hotel bar with a drug lord and a bartender. When he has a run-in with the local mob and is held hostage in a storage closet for a terrifying spell, however, he finds himself faced with newer, starker realities.

Narrowly escaping his death, Hector travels to the United States to meet with a happiness expert. He shares his collected wisdom with the scholar and manages to draw a few more conclusions about the connection between happiness and relationships. After returning to meet with the Chinese monk a second time, Hector is finally ready to put his learning to work—and bring his hard-won research home.

This charming debut from psychiatrist and self-help author François Lelord—now an international bestseller—is an engaging parable about modern man’s never-ending search for contentment. Told with a fairy tale’s naïve wisdom and a satirist’s dry wit, Hector and the Search for Happiness distills a complex world of immigrant peasants, kindly drug barons, doctors without borders, depressed psychics, and lovelorn academics into a feel-good life manual.

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  • Penguin Books
  • Paperback
  • August 2014
  • 192 Pages
  • 9780143126744

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About Francois Lelord

François Lelord has had a successful career as a psychiatrist in France, where he was born, and in the United States, where he did his postdoc (UCLA). He is the co-author of a number of bestselling self-help books and has consulted for companies interested in reducing stress for their employees. He was on a trip to Hong Kong, questioning his personal and professional life, when the Hector character popped into his mind, and he wrote Hector and the Search for Happiness not quite knowing what kind of book he was writing. The huge success of Hector, first in France, then in Germany and other countries, led him to spend more time writing and traveling, and at the height of the SARS epidemic he found himself in Vietnam, where he practiced psychiatry for a French NGO whose profits go toward heart surgery for poor Vietnamese children. While in Vietnam he also met his future wife, Phuong; today they live in Thailand.

François Lelord’s series of novels about Hector’s journeys includes Hector and the Search for Happiness, Hector and the Secrets of Love, and Hector and the Search for Lost Time.

Praise

Unexpectedly cheering.”The Independent (London)

Even the most aloof, the most detached reader will be won over by this book.Cosmopolitan (Germany)

“A feel-good gem . . . Francois Lelord has created a 21st-century hero.” Good Housekeeping (UK)

“Hector is an unassuming psychiatrist quite set in his ways but longs for something more. He wants to answer the question ‘What is happiness?’. His search takes him all over the globe where he discovers that there may be more to being happy than he ever realized and what happiness means to different people, different cultures. I loved this book, I loved Hector and I found myself wondering aloud what happiness meant to me. It made me ask friends and family what happiness meant to them. Read the book and think about that question. You may be just as surprised as Hector as to what you might find!” —Andy Terrell, Destinations Booksellers, New Albany, IN

Discussion Questions

Hector’s story is written almost as a bedtime story, from a naïve, childlike perspective. What can the author accomplish from this narrative style that he might not be able to do with a more adult or realistic style?

Many of the people Hector encounters in the developed country where he practices psychiatry are unhappy. What is the cause of their unhappiness?

One of Hector’s earliest discoveries is that comparing one’s self with others is a surefire route to unhappiness, yet throughout his travels he continues to make comparisons—for instance, with the people working in Chinese factories who have not had the opportunity to go to school. Is he better off not thinking this way, or are some comparisons useful?

Globalization is an important theme in this book. What is the connection between globalization and happiness?

The character of Édouard seems to represent a particular type of unhappy person. Do you know anyone like this, and do you think they are capable of finding happiness?

Hector juggles different feelings of love for women in his life. How does his love from Ying Li differ from his love for Clara, and which one is more sustainable over the long term?

Lesson number seven, “It’s a mistake to think that happiness is the goal,” would seem to contradict Hector’s entire quest. How does Hector reconcile this lesson with his continued search for happiness?

What does Hector learn about the role that alcohol, beauty, and sex play in making people happy? Are there dangers to relying on these sources for happiness?

When the boss of the gang in the African country sees Hector’s notebook, he decides to let Hector go. What is it about the notebook that inspires him to do this?

Hector’s journey culminates in a meeting with a professor who researches happiness. Do you think happiness is a worthy subject for academic study, and do you think it’s possible to scientifically quantify it?