Fair warning: This post includes a spoiler and the spoiler (about the end of the movie) is the whole point. I’m talking about “Hector and the Search for Happiness.”
I stumbled upon the movie when I was browsing Netflix for something to watch. I didn’t know that before the story became a movie, it was an “international bestseller with more than two million copies sold.” I had never heard of the book or the movie before. I don’t know if the movie is faithful to the book. I sure hope not.
The movie is about Hector, a psychiatrist who seems to have a good, if a bit boring and predictable life. But he’s not satisfied, so he sets off on a trip to various places (leaving behind the woman he has been living with), asking people if they are happy and trying to figure out the true key to happiness.
He goes from Paris to China and then to Africa and Los Angeles. Along the way, he sees people who are with friends and a bit of food that they are enjoying in the street. He spends time with a close friend from his childhood and a woman from his past. He forms a deep connection with a dying woman sitting next to him on a plane. He helps people in great need of his empathy and his willingness to just listen. Are any of these the keys to happiness?
Or is happiness about having lots of money? Or having sex with a young, gorgeous partner?
Strenuous exercise in breath-taking settings – is that a way to happiness? What about enduring harrowing episodes and coming out at the other end? What about that family that comes together over the same great food they have been sharing for ages?
In the end, guess how he finds his happiness? He marries the woman he was living with before he began his trip.
I’m not kidding. Here is a movie that creatively explores so many of the routes to happiness examined in scientific research, then ends with the most tired, unoriginal cliché imaginable. Plus, the conclusion is inaccurate. There is no good evidence that getting married causes you to become happier, as I’ve explained in great detail in Marriage vs. Single Life: How Science and the Media Got It So Wrong. But the causal link between getting married and getting happy is one that many people desperately want to believe, and they are not about to let their warm wishes be undermined by something as cool as good science.
Man with binoculars photo available from Shutterstock