Hector and the Search for Happiness

Hector and the Search for Happiness by Francois LelordAuthor: Francois Lelord
Publisher: Gallic Books (2010)
Number of Pages: 164
How long it took me to read: 3 days
Where I got this book: It was a gift from a friend who seems very happy at the moment. On the one hand, I’m happy for her but on the other hand, I wonder why she gave ME this book—does she think I need a few lessons in how to be happy?
ISBN: 978-1-906040-23-9

Like a Moth to a Flame

I can ponder the meaning of life until I’m blue in the face, or, just accept that we’re here to be as happy as possible. Now, all that remains is figuring out how to be happy…perhaps this book offers a few insights.

Favorite Five

I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “Hector and Clara loved each other, but they found it difficult to make plans together. For example, sometimes it was Clara who wanted to get married and have a baby and sometimes it was Hector, but they almost never wanted it at the same time.” (p.12)

4. “…you must be careful when you ask people whether they’re happy; it’s a question that can upset them a great deal.” (p.15)

3. “Lesson no. 12: It’s harder to be happy in a country run by bad people.” (p.71)

2. “Not having much is one thing, but having less than others is a bit like feeling that you’re bottom of the class—it can make you unhappy. That was why poor people in the country of MORE (and in all countries for that matter) loved the beach: on the beach people are nearly all equal.” (p.130)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1. “Agnes had been Hector’s girlfriend but one day they had separated. Actually, Hector had left Agnes, because he was very young at the time and didn’t know enough to recognize a really nice girl when he saw one, because he hadn’t met any others. And so he had left Agnes to go and meet other girls who were not nearly as well suited to him, but he didn’t know that then and only realized it much later.” (p.112)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

“When you’re in a gap between one chapter and another, of life, not of a book, you have a choice. You can be grateful for the time you have, to pause, to reflect and to explore new thoughts and ideas. Or, you can panic and worry yourself skinny (or fat) about why nothing’s happening and why all of a sudden you feel like life’s come to a standstill. It’s sometimes hard but I’m trying to follow in Hector’s footsteps and choose the first option. His journey to find out what makes people happy takes him to a few places, one of which reminds me of my first trip to Japan.

“It was November and when I left Osaka it was warm and sunny. As the train meandered up the mountains to the south, snow began to fall. By the time I reached Koyasan and realised that I was the only person getting off the train, deep snow swallowed all sound and the only signs of life were anonymous footprints leading up to the temples. I’d booked to stay at one of them and tried to figure out from the Japanese signs which one was mine. After a long trek uphill I eventually arrived at the temple, opened the gate and approached the porch. I looked for the bell but all I could see were slippers outside the sliding paper doors. I took off my rucksack and bent down to unlace my shoes. It was completely silent; dusk was approaching. I heard my breathing and the squeak of snow as I balanced on one foot at a time to remove my shoes. It wasn’t until I placed them on the porch, beside the slippers, that I noticed a monk sitting a few feet away. Had he been there the whole time?

“I smiled at him, said hello, and made a short, shallow bow. I told him I’d booked a room there for the night and said my name. He was sitting cross-legged, his red robe billowing out around him. He looked like a big cushion. Perhaps that’s why I hadn’t noticed him before.

“He looked at me, smiling and gestured at something. I looked behind me but didn’t know what he was pointing at. He held up one hand to his ear as if to say ‘listen’. All I could hear was silence. After half a minute or so, I heard a very faint buzzing. I stood very still, trying to guess what it was. It sounded like a bee but I couldn’t imagine there would be any up here, at this time of year, in the snow. I shrugged at the monk, wondering if the gesture had the same meaning in Japanese. He was still smiling and from his smile, I understood that he had all the time in the world.

“After a while, I stopped worrying about the sound being a nuisance. I was content standing in my socks on the steps to the temple, with a Japanese monk, listening to a mysterious noise. Everything was perfectly still. And suddenly I knew where the sound was coming from—my rucksack. I rummaged around to find what was making the noise. Right at the bottom of the rucksack, under all of my clothes and shoes and books and towel, inside my wash-bag, my electric toothbrush was switched on.

“After Hector met his monk, he discovered that ‘Happiness is a walk in the mountains.’ When I met my monk, I learned that ‘Happiness is purity of the senses.’ I’m grateful to Hector for reminding me of that moment.”

“What I like about this book is Hector’s growing list of lessons on things that bring happiness. I’m curious about what friends and family would put on their lists. However, I am mindful of a lesson Hector learns early on in his search: ‘you must be careful when you ask people whether they’re happy; it’s a question that can upset them a great deal.’

“It strikes me as a question that’s unsettling to people who are not happy. Happiness is still a taboo subject—one that’s best kept concealed beneath layers of pretense or, within the four walls of your therapist’s office. I think about times when that line of confidence has been crossed and someone has opened their heart, with all its fears and feelings of inadequacy, and really shared their innermost feelings. That intimacy between two people who trust each other with their true selves is powerful beyond words. So why are we so afraid to show others who we really are?”

“I’m getting closer to the end of the book and I’m asking myself if reading it has made me any wiser. I think many of Hector’s observations are common sense. Actually, that’s pretty much all that wisdom is—seeing clearly what is right in front of you and seeing it for what it is. That’s why when someone says something to us that rings true, we are stupefied not by its complexity but by its simplicity…and then perhaps we feel dumb for not having figured it out for ourselves. So, on page 127, I’ve underlined a few of Hector’s lessons so that I can remind myself of them when necessary. One of them is: ‘Sometimes happiness is not knowing the whole story.’ That seems like a good place to end what I have to say about this book.”

Viveca Mellegard

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1 Comment

  1. Teta Bombardieri says:

    I’m considering how true is stating “it’s harder to be happy in a country run by bad people” …. I’ve never thought about it before …

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