Two Views of Happiness – Is Ignorance Bliss? Can Happiness Be Found?

After an extended vacation from blogging, to really dig into Infinite Jest (which I’m still embroiled in a long, long battle with), I have returned to discuss a pair of novels on happiness that I read in the last month.

The first book I picked up just because the cover was too good not to.

How I Became Stupid

Looks great, right?  And with a title like that… it must be!

How I Became Stupid
Martin Page
176 Pages
Penguin
November 30, 2004

So… the book was originally published in France and, despite its short length, is heavily influenced by philosophers.  I can tell because there was a lot of mooning in the prose that I didn’t fully understand.

In the story, a young man named Antoine is distraught.  He is upset because he isn’t happy and he blames, first and foremost, his intelligence.  Antoine feels that if he is ever going to be truly happy, he’ll have to become an idiot, like the rest of the people he sees every day.

My recommendation? Read James Patterson.  Seriously, your IQ will drop faster than a frozen brick of piss from an airplane.  Which is also about what a James Patterson book is worth… but I digress!

Antoine goes on a quest to make himself stupider.  His first instinct is to become an alcoholic.  After reading up on the subject, he determines that the knowledge must be gained firsthand and he heads to a bar.  Under the tutelage of one of the bar flies he meets there, Antoine takes his first couple sips into blissful ignorance.

Unfortunately, for Antoine, he also suffers from a severe alcohol allergy and is rushed to the hospital for treatment, effectively ending his rather brief stint as a stinking wino.

Further distraught, Antoine turns to suicide.  In the hospital, he discusses with a young woman in a full-body cast (herself a suicide survivor) about just how he should go about it. The woman tells him about a local group of people that can help him and he makes a point of attending the next meeting.

Instead of helping, though, the group is so morbid and terrifying that Antoine decides he’s better off alive and, still overwhelmed by his fantastic brilliance, he does what anyone would do… he seeks out prescription medication!

Antoine visits his doctor (who was also his pediatrician… and still treats exclusively children) whom Antoine convinces to prescribe a king-sized dose of a drug called Happyzac.

Under the influence of Happyzac, Antoine finds himself integrating more.  He even goes to McDonald’s and manages to enjoy eating the food.  He starts working out, and even gets a job as a stockbroker.  His job goes well and Antoine becomes ridiculously rich thanks to an accident with a soda.  But still… he is not happy.

His friends (clad in Einstein masks) stage an intervention, kidnap him from his lavish trappings, and eventually… Antoine returns to normal.  He’s still unhappy as we near the end… until he meets a remarkable, strange woman.

The book… is funny.  Really funny.  But it also has a lot of weird bits that seem like they’re trying too hard.  Plus the philosophical stuff really went right over my head and the ending seemed a bit rushed and unbelievable.  Just the same, it was an interesting view on just what it means to be happy.  Which brings us to…

Hector and the Search for Happiness
Martin Page
192 Pages
Penguin
August 31, 2010

As a psychiatrist, our protagonist Hector gets a bit down over all the people who come into his office with tiny problems that they blow up into giant, life-ending issues.  He particularly gets confused when the people he treats are remarkably well off, and yet still seem to be unhappy with everything in their life.

In response, Hector takes a leave of absence and travels abroad in an attempt to discover where happiness comes from, what it means to different people, and if things like region, religion, or race (among other factors) can have a significant effect on one’s own happiness.

I won’t get as much into the details of this book.  The prose is charming at times, but quite simple.  Just the same, I often found myself smiling at the little details… a squirrel begging for fried squid table scraps, the brief moments of love between the characters, and the occasional bits of glowing insight into happiness that Hector discovers on his trip.

This is not a novel of details.  Most times the countries aren’t named (though there is heavy enough allusion that you’ll be able to guess which ones are which, generally), and other details are either glossed over, or removed entirely from the plot.

Just the same, there is a sweet (almost saccharine, but not quite) layer to much of the plot and that, in and of itself, was enough to keep me reading.  What Hector discovers is mostly common sense, but he’s such a strangely innocent character that it works really well.

Now that I’m back in the game, look for a couple of comic book posts in the near future and… hopefully an update of some kind on my progress with Infinite Jest.  Well, hopefully.

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2 thoughts on “Two Views of Happiness – Is Ignorance Bliss? Can Happiness Be Found?

  1. I am so glad you posted about Hector! I’ve been looking at that book for a while now. I may just have to read it! Happy reading, and happy birthday!

    • Hector was quite good. The prose was very sweet and wonderful. A nice, quick read for a warm summer night.

      Thanks for the b-day wishes!

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