Earlier in January, I had to study 10 chapters of a psychology textbook for an exam. At the same time, I was reading Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, a psychology professor and Nobel Prize winner. It was a little too much psychology. What I needed was a dose of good ol’ fiction. And so when I spied a slim volume on the book shelf at home, with a cute cover of a man with geeky glasses holding on to a bunch of colourful balloons, and the word “Happiness”, I thought this is just the kind of light, fluffy stuff that I need.
So imagine my expression when I turned over the book to read that the story is about a young psychiatrist! It was something like this: -__-“
Anyway. Hector was doing OK, with a thriving practice and many affluent, “well-dressed” patients. Most of these people had no real disorders or misfortunes. Yet, they felt dissatisfied with their lives. Listening to these patients who were “unhappy for no reason” wore him out.
Hector decided to go on a holiday in China, Africa, and the US. But because he’s a conscientious young man, he decided to try to understand what makes people happy during this trip, so that he can become a better psychiatrist.
The story is written like a parable for adults, and the language is quite whimsical and sometimes, gently teasing. I was enjoying the easy read until the part when he went to China and slept with a prostitute without realizing that she was paid to sleep with him. Not parable-like at all, that part was. He fell in love briefly with the Chinese girl, and felt at one point that happiness was being able to love more than one woman at the same time (He had a girlfriend back home in Paris). One must remember that the author Francois Lelord is French.
So our well-meaning but naive Hector came up with a list of what he thinks happiness is. I shall not list all 23 items and affect the book sales (2-million-plus-1 copies and counting) but will list just the first 5:
Lesson 1: Making comparisons can spoil your happiness.
Lesson 2: Happiness often comes when least expected.
Lesson 3: Many people only see happiness in their future.
Lesson 4: Many people think happiness comes from having more power or more money.
Lesson 5: Sometimes happiness is not knowing the whole story.
Many of the lessons are common-sense, but I suppose there is some scientific evidence behind the list, as Lelord is a psychiatrist himself. A few were just whimsical, like Lesson 6: Happiness is a long walk in beautiful, unfamiliar mountains. What stood out most for me is perhaps Lesson 16: Happiness is knowing how to celebrate. I think this may pertain more to Asians, but sometimes we feel that we have to be modest about our achievements or the good things that happened to us. We can be happy but not too much. Goodness knows how often our lives are littered with daily defeats, so if there is cause for celebration, why not?
Would I recommend this book to friends? Only if they are looking for a light and quick read—say, something to occupy themselves during the daily commute. There’s more where that came from: Another novel called Hector and the Secrets of Love. But I think I’ll pass.