November 13, 2010
You look happy.
I manage to, as long as I don’t think of sad things.
Aging, for example…
Come on, you are a psychiatrist, you are supposed to know how deal with that! And what makes you happy now?
Being published by Penguin makes me definitely happy. I would never have thought I would one day be a Penguin author. As says my character, happiness often comes when least expected.
Aren’t you too modest ? Your book has already been translated in twenty six langages.
Yes, but being published in English is really something, thanks first to Gallic Book in the U.K. As I have many good memories about the U.S., I am delighted to getAmerican readers.
Tell us a little more about Hector’s journey.
Hector is a young psychiatrist, but he is not satisfied with himself. So he decides to go on a trip around the world to understand what happiness is exactly about. He follows a trail or friends in various countries. Along the way and his personal experiences, he writes some “happiness lessons” in a little notebook.
But why is not satisfied with himself at first?
Because he realizes he cannot make happy his patients who are unhappy not to be happy.
Can you say it again?
Yes, unhappy not to be happy. You know, happiness has become a supreme value, as well as personal freedom (before duty and family tradition weresupposed to come first.) So, in Western countries today, when we don’t feel happy, we get like a double sentence: first not being happy, and then being unhappy not to be happy, because we are supposed to be responsible for it. At the same time we got a lot of freedom, so more chances to be very happy, or very unhappy.
You seem to me a pretty thoughtful guy, so why to write this Hector’s story in this simple fairy tale style?
Becausea philosophical tale written in a naive style belongs to a French tradition. Look, my friend: Voltaire, Montesquieu, Saint-Exupery … Hum, let’s be frank: because I felt unhappy about writing a new self-help book, specially on that elusive topic: happiness. But about Voltaire and others, in a way it’s true: some early readers signaled to me that Hector has been influenced by these great classics. I read them again for the first time after school, and I realized these masters had some impact on my teen brain.
Doesn’t Hector embark on a journey too because he has some kind of … commitment problem with his long-term girlfiend at home, Clara?
Hum…Hem… Let’s say they have both a feeling for commitment, but never at the same time, as it happens sometimes in couples.
I see Hector has a happiness lesson noted in his notebook: Lesson no 5. Sometimes happiness is not knowing the full story. More about that one?
I would prefer not to tell in which circumstances this lesson comes to Hector’s mind…
You don’t make this interview easy! But anyway, do you think this lesson is true?
Yes, at some point good mental health, and happiness, supposes some slight irrational optimism about us and the world. (Not too much, though, look at what an excess of positive thinking did to Wall Street and the rest of the world.)
But Hector, is it another name for you after all?
Well, we are collegues, we share the same interest for people or new experiences, and I am not sure we are so street-smart either. Hector has always lived in a safe environment, and protected by his doctor’s status.Then he will learn more about life during his journey, sometimes the hard way…
Do you mean that the situation described in the book are your own experience?
I can only to stay vague, because like for any fiction writer, it’s a mix of personal experiences, thing that I witnessed, other unconscious influences…
By the way,I noticed that Hector is not exactly faithful to his girlfiend!
Oh, but it has been… exaggerated. Let’s say that as a young male, he is sometimes too sensitive to … temptation. And he feels guilty, I insist, he feels guilty afterwards, he repents. Does this answer sound too French?
And so Hector comes back happier.
Definitely, yes, he has learnt a lot about life, he feels a better fit for his job, and more commited to his girlfriend.
About those happiness lessons. My favourite one is “happinesss is a way of seeing things.” But is it not too simple?
Every lesson can be read at two different level : common sense–that we tend to forget too easily when we are unhappy–and philosophical because on happiness everything has been written before, from the Greeks to modern psychology. But I wrote a tale, not a essay, because I wanted do elicit emotions in my readers. I feel the most happy when people told me Hector made them laugh, or cry…. Or see their life in perspective.
What is your favourite lesson?
These days, it’s happiness is caring about the happiness of people you love. ButI have a soft spot for happiness is knowing how to celebrate even if my hangovers become harder with time. Then I shift to It’s a big mistake to think happiness is the goal; Hector got it from a monk, and I think we miss that one too often.
Is there a “best” lesson?
No, happiness is like a bouquet, lessons are the flowers, you have to pick up the ones to make your personal favorite bouquet, for this time of your life.
After this book on happiness, thenext Hector journey will beabout love. Why?
I wanted to write about a totally opposite topic.