French psychaitrist François Lelord’s book Hector and the Search for Happiness has sold over 2.5 million copies. I remember reading about it when it first came out and was struck by what he’d achieved. His novel is different to my happiness research project in that it’s a story, but the aim is quite similar – to try and unpick what happiness means to us today.
Lelord’s starting point of a modern context is similar to mine. Hector — a psychiatrist like Lelord — sets off around the world to discover the ingredients for happiness because he can’t bear to see his patients so sad. The first person he meets is a banker: wealth, it seems, is one of the great stumbling blocks to happiness. It’s almost like the story of the Buddha, who wanders from person to person, taking advice and contributing to his own thought processes as he goes.
But perhaps the conclusions of this book are rather different to mine. In an interview in The Times today he says:
“I felt rather embarrassed at first as a Frenchman writing about happiness because I always think we are so grumpy at work. Waiters and taxi drivers can be rude. But we often top happiness polls. Happiness is a good glass of wine, the perfect cheese and conversation.
“The British don’t benefit from these things in the same way. In France we think of drink as making us happy because we don’t get drunk, it is a social activity; food is to be savoured rather than an obesity problem, and friendships and family are valued.”
Sex is another problem for the British. “In France we are open about the fact that sex can make you happy — it’s part of French folklore. In Britain you are more obsessed with shopping but that is a passive happiness. Your children love computer games that give them a high but they don’t provide the same contentment as climbing a tree. On the other hand, weather in Britain can make you very happy — you appreciate a sunny day.”
Read the full article on The Times website.