Where do we find our happiness?
Happiness is a state that human beings have been searching for since the day they exited the Garden of Eden. So it’s not surprising that Hollywood is also interested in discovering the route to that much sought after state. Lending a helping hand, Hector and the Search for Happiness offers to map out the most popular paths for moviegoers, but sadly stops just short of their hoped-for destination.
British funny man Simon Pegg (The World’s End, Paul, Hot Fuzz) stars as Hector, a psychologist who is tired of trying to direct his patients to happiness, especially when he’s not sure he has arrived himself. Before he settles down with his beautiful girlfriend, Clara (Rosamund Pike), he determines to set off on a worldwide trip with a single question in mind: “What makes you happy?” Pursuing the answer will take him to the fleshpots of Shanghai, the dark heart of Africa and the urban cool of California, and the answers he discovers will be point him inescapably to one conclusion. But will he know how to take hold of it?
Hector and the Search for Happiness is pitch-perfect in the way it neatly balances the dry comedy Pegg has become renowned for with the longing to discover the key to humanity’s most longed for state. Writer / Director Peter Chelsom has created an inventive style of storytelling that revolves around Hector’s travel journal. The audience is drawn in to his quest as the screen becomes the notebook, with Hector’s conclusions scrawling themselves across its top and the margins as Pegg makes his various discoveries.
But happiness continues to rest just outside of Hector’s reach, as Professor Coreman (Christopher Plummer) warns him it will. That’s because happiness is a symptom of something much greater.
Mahatma Ghandi wrote that happiness was what happened when, “…What you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.” But the ability to achieve this alignment, let alone enjoy it, remains far beyond the reach of us ordinary people. Paradoxically, happiness is there for the taking. Happiness is much more a gift than an achievement, a result of someone else’s efforts than our own.
The truth is our happiness is actually an echo of God’s love. “Every good and perfect gift is from above,” the book of James reveals, “coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” Recognising that is the step over the threshold into lasting happiness. That’s why Charles Spurgeon wrote, “It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.”
We may lose everything on our list, but we can remain happy in the knowledge that in Christ we cannot lose God’s love. Though sad, even painful things might happen to us, the evidence of that love will continue to abound while we keep our eyes open.
Hector almost gets there, learning that the means to his happiness was always with him if he would just recognise it. There’s also a great deal of wisdom in the film’s call for contentment with what we have. As a monk continually assures our hero, “You hold all the cards.” The same holy man even points heavenward at the end, leading Hector to the conclusion that, “We all have an obligation to be happy,” because we have been given much to be happy about. It’s just a pity that Hector and the Search for Happiness stops short of naming the Giver.