Hector and the Search for Happiness: A Novel

Hector and the Search for Happiness: A Novel


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Now a major motion picture starring Simon Pegg, Rosamund Pike, Toni Collette, and Christopher Plummer
The international bestseller with more than two million copies sold
“Once upon a time there was a young psychiatrist called Hector who was not very satisfied with himself. . . . And so he decided to take a trip around the world, and everywhere he went he would try to understand what made people happy or unhappy.”

Hector travels from Paris to China to Africa to the United States, and along the way he keeps a list of observations about the people he meets. Combining the winsome appeal of The Little Prince with the inspiring philosophy of The Alchemist, Hector’s journey around the world and into the human soul is entertaining, empowering, and smile-inducing—as winning in its optimism as it is wise in its simplicity.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143118398
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/31/2010
Series: Hector's Journeys Series
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 215,970
Product dimensions: 4.90(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.60(d)
Lexile: 1100L (what's this?)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

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.
Hector and the Search for Happiness is François Lelord’s first novel, and the first in a series that includes Hector and the Secrets of Love and Hector and the Search for Lost Time.

Reading Group Guide


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.



François Lelord has had a successful career as a psychiatrist in France and the United States. He is the coauthor of a number of bestselling self-help books and has consulted for companies interested in reducing stress for their employees. Since the enormous success of Hector in France and abroad, he has written three subsequent books about Hector's journeys.



Q. Hector and the Search for Happiness was inspired by your own search for happiness in some measure. Can you explain how the book came to be?

At that time I felt a little exhausted by my professional practice, and not feeling like writing the new self-help book my publisher was waiting for. During a trip in Hong Kong when I was questioning my personal and professional life directions, Hector character popped up in my mind. I wrote Hector's Journey with jubilation in a few weeks, not knowing exactly what kind of book I was writing, and why I had chosen at first this fairy-tale style.

Q. Your prose in this book is quite spare, with a folktale's simplicity. How did you arrive at this particular style of writing?

Afterwards I realized than I have been influenced by some masterpieces that every French schoolboy had to read in the sixties, specially, Candide by Voltaire, Le Petit Prince by Saint-Exupery, and I realized recently Kafka, in the adventures of the naïve Kark in Amerika, one of my favorite books.

Q. You have also written self-help books. Are there any parallels between writing fiction and writing self-help literature, either in terms of your process or the ideas that you're exploring?

For me these are different process. Writing nonfiction implies a lot of planning and checking; it's like building a piece of furniture, you have to design it at first, to look for materials in advance. Writing fiction is for me the opposite, you write everyday in kind of daydreaming state, just trying not to loose your track, in the case of Hector writing about happiness.

Q. How did you choose the particular destinations for Hector's journey?

It came from trips I had at that time and the years before, the ones which had left me with unforgettable—and so emotional—memories.

Q. Hector's list of guiding principles for happiness becomes a sort of road map for him as he travels. Did you start out writing the book with these principles in hand or did they come to you along the way?

I started writing already loaded on the academic literature and philosophy I have happened to read on happiness, my personal experiences, and the ones of my patients. But no planning then, the principles popped up naturally according the situations who came along the trip.

Q. How did the real-life academic research on happiness inform your story? Had you read much of it before you started writing or did you investigate it specifically for this book?

No, for that book, but I have read a lot of happiness academic literature for a former book about emotions. And so the lessons can be read at different levels. First, one can find a little humorous that a supposed so knowledgeable psychiatrist writes seemingly so naïve lessons. (I know that some people may miss that kind of fun and ask a little angrily why the lessons are so simple!) But in fact they are a simple formulations of the conclusions of most of the academic research of happiness, and obviously of some philosophers too. For example "happiness is to have a house and a garden" is a simple truth, a plus in Quality of Life indexes, but a reference to Epicure, too. "Happiness is a way of seeing things" is a reference to cognitive theories on happiness and to Stoician philosophy. And later the Professor tells Hector more about real theories of happiness. But one can enjoy Hector's lessons without knowing anything about philosophy and psychology and I am happy about that!

Q. You tackle some complicated topics in this novel—racism, class disparities, the impact of colonialism, sexual exploitation—yet you've managed to keep the proceedings relatively simple, allowing certain themes to resonate without letting the story get bogged down by big issues. Was this a challenge for you as the author?

Not really, I must be very superficial! Maybe not so, I hope, but at the level of a philosophical tale you don't have to explore systematically all the issues, but just to show them in a way to make the reader think. I didn't invent that genre: geniuses to whom I don't compare myself came before me: Voltaire, Montesquieu, Swift…

Q. One of the most intriguing lines in the book is: "You must be careful when you ask people whether they're happy; it's a question that can upset them a great deal." Why is happiness—ostensibly something everyone wants—such a sensitive issue?

Because in our Western culture, and maybe specially in the United States, we are supposed to be free beings and so responsible for our own happiness, which at the same time has become a supreme value. (Opposite to some times ago when you had to accept that your life was determined by social order, untreatable plagues, and God, and when duty was more valued than happiness.) So today, not being happy is not far from acknowledging a kind of personal failure.

Q. Most of Hector's lessons on happiness go beyond the realm of traditional psychiatry. How has writing this book and its sequels affected your relationship to modern medicine?

Not much I think, because modern medicine, and of course psychiatry, is more and more concerned about happiness and well-being or the patients, I have seen that evolution since I was a medical student, and for the first time in my UCLA-Veteran hospital year, where my mentors' teams were concerned about the well-being of chronic mental patients, not only reducing their symptoms.

Q. Hector has struck a chord in your native Europe. What is it about this story that speaks to readers?

As an author, you never really know. But I got some letters. Some people were sensitive to the humor of the book, and told me it made them smile and cheered them up. Other ones told me it made them cry, but still they liked it for that. Many told me that it helped them to put their worries in perspective at some difficult times. As you can imagine, all of those comments made me happy.


  • 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?

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Hector and the Search for Happiness 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Moves along nicely, and provides a pleasant read before bed. I'd likely have appreciated it a bit more if the author didn't use as many euphemisms roundabout ways of saying things, though. Am glad that I bought and read the book; just not five stars happy.
Lizbiz5396 More than 1 year ago
A nice read that's simple and light. Looking forward to Lelord's next Hector adventure, titled Hector and the Secrets of Love.
jasonpettus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)This slight little French tale, originally published in 2002 but just now coming out in the US, has apparently become one of those quirky global hits that has now sold over two million copies, and has spawned a whole series of sequels; essentially an autobiographical tale about the psychiatrist author's mid-life crisis, it follows him as he travels around the world on a sabbatical seeking the true keys to happiness, realizing that it essentially boils down to a series of cutesy new-age homilies that sound vaguely like a cross between Buddhism and Joel Osteen, as well as plenty of volunteer work for us privileged white folk in the decrepit failed states of the world that Lelord traveled to on a regular basis during his own vision quest. But I gotta say, I myself could barely choke my way through even half of this before exasperatingly giving up; not because of its message, which is harmless if not fairly predictable, but rather because Lelord wrote the entire thing as a simplistic children's fairytale, which will no doubt delight your suburban mom when you buy her a copy for Christmas, but will drive most grown-ups quite crazy quite fast. It's one of those infuriatingly upbeat "it takes a village" titles destined for the point-of-purchase shelf full of shiny cute doodads right next to the cash register, and it unfortunately reads exactly so.Out of 10: 6.0
BettyMc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My perspective: The sentences are short and deceptively simple. At first it seems like a children's book, but it is not. The book includes prostitutes, monks, and other adult topics.I smiled at some paragraphs; for example: "Hector is a psychiatrist; he only has to look at people to know where they went to school and whether their grandfather collected butterflies." I know a school psychologist who, five minutes after he meets someone, classifies that person according to Myers-Briggs, such as INFP or ESFJ.
whitreidtan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This slight book is about a psychiatrist named Hector who travels the world trying to understand what makes people happy (and conversely what makes them unhappy). He is not entirely satisfied with life himself and so he is looking for the keys to contentment. Hector finds small bits of wisdom throughout his travels and he jots these tiny kernels of truth down in a notebook, ultimately compiling a list of universal happiness factors. Despite a barebones frame of a plot, this is really very much a self-help book masquerading as fiction. And indeed, it turns out that the author has written successful self-help books. I am certainly not the best audience for self-help, even self-help cloaked in fictional raiment as I find too many of the revelations to be self-evident. In this case, the lessons are also simplistic and trite. The fact that these truths are coming from a character who apparently finds happiness in (literally) a woman in many of the places he goes despite his partner at home also helped make this a slightly unpleasant read. Obviously I didn't love this parable and don't see the marketing comparison to Le Petit Prince but perhaps readers who need reminding not to compare themselves to others and that "happiness is a certain way of seeing things" will find more of interest here than I did.
stillwaters12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a very simple, almost youth division book, except for some of his subjects. It's a super fast read and interesting. Most of Hector's conclusions are well known but it is nice to see them all in one spot.
JackieBlem on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is sneaky. It seems like a simple story, told in a tone that is reminiscent of fairy tales made to be read to children (though it is translated from French, which may be adding to the formality of it). However, some powerful insights are packed into this little paperback. Hector, a psychiatrist, goes on a globe trotting quest to find out what happiness is made of. He ends up with a list of 22 (it would have been 23, but he scratched #18 out) things that help to create happiness. I found it entirely charming and very thought provoking, a gentle read for just about anyone.
alana_leigh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When dealing with a topic like happiness and a quest to discover how to "achieve" it or to compile a list of lessons that might help others be happy, a sense of whimsy is more than a little appreciated. Thank goodness that Hector and the Search for Happiness has this in spades. Told with a narrative tone befitting a fable for adults, Francois Lelord's novel was originally written in French and is a European best-seller. Now we Americans (who pride ourselves on the whole pursuit of happiness thing, at least in theory) have the ability to learn from Hector and his many lessons as he travels the world to learn what makes us happy.This is how Gallic Books summarizes this novel:Hector is a successful young psychiatrist. He¿s very good at treating patients in real need of his help. But many people he sees have no health problems: they¿re just deeply dissatisfied with their lives. Hector can¿t do much for them, and it¿s beginning to depress him.So when a patient tells him he looks in need of a holiday, Hector decides to set off round the world to find out what makes people everywhere happy (and sad), and whether there is such a thing as the secret of true happiness¿ Narrated with deceptive simplicity, its perceptive observations on happiness offer us the chance to reflect on the contentment we all look for in our own lives.This is a pretty accurate description of the basic plot, even if it neglects to mention just how amusing things are. I could almost hear Stephen Fry narrating the general story as we went along, that's the kind of tone it struck. Despite Hector's obvious intelligence, he was a little naive as he went along, taking an approach as a child might to studying adults and figuring out what made them tick. I particularly enjoyed an early moment in the book where Hector asks his girlfriend whether she's happy and she starts to cry and asks if he's leaving her. Desperately backpedaling (without any clue as to what he's said wrong), he insists he's simply trying to determine what makes people happy and so he starts keeping a list of truths, most of which actually do apply to just about everyone. The particular amusement that comes with Hector, a successful and intelligent therapist, is the fact that simple facts of life become great truths, and everyone could do well to remember little things when faced with over-complicated situations. He travels from "his own country" to various places, including the country of More (gee, one guess as to what country *this* might be) and notes that people in More aren't any happier because they have more... in fact, they tend to be even less happy than people in other countries where they have less, but might reprioritize their values. It's not that Lelord ever tries to beat us over the head with anything (I imagine that depending upon what each individual reader values, one would notice ample evidence supporting certain things or a lack of focus on others), but instead he seems to phrase these truths about happiness in as abstract a way as possible without being totally inaccessible. Lelord's small novel will indubitably charm any reader with a sense of humor, as will Hector himself. Genuine and full of a honest openness, Hector and the Search for Happiness will not have you reassessing the things that make you happy, but will probably make you appreciative of the fact that you didn't have to travel all around the world and survive Hector's ordeals to learn his lessons... indeed, you probably know them already, though you may not have distilled them into such simple truths. I might avoid giving this one as a gift to anyone who is trying to figure out just what makes them happy (as Hector comes off as a bit dim and clueless at times, and one would hate to inadvertently imply something to the person on the receiving end, though Hector is always lovable if not always conventionally "moral"), but most literate people will find Hector a charmin
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
VeronicaK89 More than 1 year ago
Fantastic! I absolutely loved this book! Hector is a psychiatrist and constantly hears that his patients are unhappy. He decides one day to find the secret to happiness. Hector sets out on a journey that takes him around the world in search of happiness. He keeps a notebook with what amounts to bullet points of what makes people happy in hopes that he will find a solution to happiness. A very inspirational read.
thegirlintheglasses More than 1 year ago
inspirational without being obnoxious. everyone should read this if they're going through a hard time or just want another perspective about life.
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