Book cover

I’ll say right up front: the book is better. But I still think it’s worth seeing the movie.

I have no idea how widespread interest in Hector and the Search for Happiness might be. I stumbled across the book in our public library, and then when I was halfway through reading the book we happened to see a trailer for it on a Redbox video. So we picked it up. (As a Whovian, I was curious to see Simon Pegg in this role as well.) You may or may not have even heard of it (although if it’s in Redbox, I assume it must be fairly popular).

Of course they make changes when they make a book into a movie. That’s understandable. Still, they took what could have been a solid fun-and-philosophical movie and turned it into a romcom.

I only mention it here because we have delved before into the notion of happiness, and because much of what Hector discovers involves relationships–a very complex form of communication.

But mainly I want to recommend Hector’s method. Throughout both the book and the movie, he jots observations down in a notebook–an old-fashioned practice adaptable to modern methods that aids understanding, whether in original or digital form.

Blogs have similar capability, as do journals. But we’re not really talking about journaling so much as distilling. Over time, Hector created a list. Obviously, you can dash off a list in a matter of minutes, but Hector sought to distill observations from multiple trips to wide-ranging locations into a significant record/probing of a slippery concept. The process of creating such a list was life-changing.

Without getting into spoilers, I’ll just say that the movie makes a much bigger deal about Hector’s relationship with Clara (another hot term for Whovians!), leaves out some key scenes (that always happens when a book becomes a movie), conflates some characters, and trivializes some of the interactions. It also almost completely minimizes the nature vs. nurture question that dominates the scientific investigation of happiness that the novel focuses on. Most egregiously (in my opinion) is the way they changed the list.

The list evolves during the course of Hector’s journeys. The one in the book winds up with 23 insights, whereas the movie version has 14. (Movies are shorter, what can I say?) Here are the first five from the book list:

  1. Making comparisons can spoil your happiness.
  2. Happiness often comes when least expected.
  3. Many people see happiness only in their future.
  4. Many people think that happiness comes from having more power or more money.
  5. Sometimes happiness is not knowing the whole story.

The first five from the movie:

  1. Making comparisons can spoil your happiness.
  2. A lot of people think happiness is being rich or important.
  3. Many people see happiness only in their future.
  4. Happiness could be the freedom to love more than one woman at the same time.
  5. Sometimes happiness is not knowing the whole story.

Number 4 on the movie list actually shows up as number 18 in the book list, and in both cases Hector winds up scratching it out (plot point). One of my biggest gripes: the movie list number 10 is “Sweet potato pie.” While that dish figures in as a factor in a plot point, its inclusion in a shorter list somewhat trivializes the list, and doesn’t show up explicitly at all in the book list.


What would it do for you if you tracked your observations? Piece of paper, notebook, iPad, blog, whatever–what would happen if you could pull all the details of your daily life together and get a big picture view of it? What would your list look like?

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