Summary of “The Man Who Wanted to be Happy” by Laurent Gounelle: This book is the story of a man on holiday in Bali who decides, a few days before leaving, to meet a healer. The revelations of this wise old man will change his life.
By Laurent Gounelle, 2009, 221 pages.
Chronicle and summary of “The Man Who Wanted to be Happy” by Laurent Gounelle:
“The Man Who Wanted to be Happy” is Laurent Gounelle’s first book. It is the story of a man (told in the first person) who, while on holiday in Bali, realises that he is not living the life of his dreams and that he is not happy. Through a series of discussions with a wise old man, he becomes aware that nothing is stopping him from living the life of his dreams, nothing except himself and his own beliefs…
Note: Laurent Gounelle does not give his chapters any titles. Therefore, the chapter titles in this summary have been invented to offer a guide to the story as it unfolds.
Chapter 1 – Laurent Gounelle sets the scene: Bali and a healer who is nothing like the clichés
Laurent Gounelle immediately takes us into his character’s head. We don’t even know his name yet, but we know that he is in Bali and that he really wants to meet someone (whose identity is a mystery). He complains that he has trouble finding the house. Maps are of no use because there are no signposts. There is no point asking locals for directions because they will point you in some direction even if they don’t know whether it’s the right one. The man finally reaches his destination. There he meets Master Samtyang, who looks nothing like the narrator imagined. He is a man close to 80 years old, with a slow walk, wearing clothes that are “disarmingly simple, minimalist, and ageless.”
“The first thing that came to my mind was that I would probably have given him 50 rupiahs if I had seen him begging in the street. […] I’m ashamed to admit that my reflex was to think that it was the wrong person. He couldn’t be the healer whose reputation had reached overseas.”
Chapter 2 – The horrible massage
In the second chapter of “The Man Who Wanted to be Happy”, Laurent Gounelle is extremely concise. It is just one page on which the narrator describes the massage his host gives him like a form of torture, in particular when he reaches his toes.
Chapter 3 – The diagnosis!
All Master Samtyang has to do is hold the narrator’s toe for him to cry out in pain. His diagnosis is ready: “You are an unhappy person,” he says. According to the old man, pain is the symptom of a more general lack of well-being. “If I put the same pressure at the same point on somebody else, he wouldn’t feel pain,” he continues.
A discussion begins: “What’s wrong in your life? Your health is very good. So what is it? Work? Your love life? Your family?”
The narrator is surprised by the wise masseur’s questions, but he answers all the same: “I don’t know—yes, I could be happier, like everybody, I suppose.” Then he continues: “Let’s say I would be happier if I were with someone.” And when the wise man asks him why he isn’t, the narrator replies that it is because he is too thin for a woman to find him attractive.
Chapter 4 – The beliefs that stop us from being happy
The image we have of ourselves becomes reality for others
A discussion begins about the narrator’s physical appearance. The healer tries to make him aware that what matters is not his appearance, but the way he behaves:
“Your problem is not your physique, but how you believe women perceive it. Actually, the success that one does or doesn’t have with the opposite sex has little to do with physical appearance.”
Master Samtyang pursues his line of reasoning:
What women find attractive is what emanates from your body, that’s all. And that derives directly from the image you have of yourself. When you believe something about yourself, positive or negative, you behave in a way that reflects that thing. You show it to others all the time, and even if it was originally a creation of your mind, it becomes reality for other people, then for you.”
Where do our beliefs come from?
The wise man goes on to explain the reasons behind our beliefs. According to him, there are several possible explanations. They can come from:
- What other people say about us. If they are people we find credible, then we often believe what they say about us. This is the case with things our parents say to us during our childhood, for example:
A young child learns an enormous amount from his or her parents, and, at least up to a certain age, tends to accept everything they say. It’s engraved in the child. He or she assimilates it.”
- Conclusions we draw, without realising it, from some of our life experiences:
“…it is especially during childhood that most of the beliefs we have about ourselves are formed, but you can also develop them later on, even as an adult. But, in that case, they will generally be the result of very strong emotional experiences.”
Laurent Gounelle ends this chapter with an exchange about the next interview between the two protagonists:
“When you come back tomorrow, we will discover together other beliefs which are stopping you from being happy […].
– I didn’t know I was coming back tomorrow.
– You don’t expect me to believe that your problems are limited to your doubts about your physical appearance? You certainly have other, much more serious problems, and we will tackle them together.”
When the narrator says that he finds the wise man’s words quite harsh, the master goes on with a smile:
“It’s not by telling people what they want to hear that you help them change. […] In the West, you are used to separating the body and the mind. Here, we think the two are closely linked and form a coherent whole.”
Chapter 5 – Thoughts raised by the enchanting Master Samtyang
The narrator leaves the wise man’s house and gets back in his car to go home. He takes the time to admire the pretty scenery, while thinking about the lifestyle of the Balinese people. His encounter with Master Samtyang has had a profound effect upon him:
“I was thinking back to my meeting with the healer, and I still felt under the spell of our conversation. The man had a special aura. I was excited by what he had revealed to me, even if what he said had sometimes been disconcerting.”
When he finally reaches his bungalow at nightfall, he decides to take a walk by the water. It is the opportunity to once again think about his conversation with the wise old man. While he can imagine that humans develop beliefs about themselves under the influence of people around them and conclusions that are unconsciously drawn from their life experiences, he wonders about the extent of those beliefs. How much of an effect can those beliefs have on the course of one’s life? Based on the accident of encounters and experience, could he have believed in other things that would have taken his life in another direction?
Chapter 6 – The Dutch neighbours
It is only in chapter 6 of “The Man Who Wanted to be Happy” that Laurent Gounelle tells us his narrator’s first name: Julian.
After a good night’s sleep and a lie-in in the morning, Julian goes for a walk around his bungalow and meets his neighbours, a Dutch couple: Hans and Claudia. Claudia is making lunch: barbecued fish skewers, while her husband criticises her method. We sense that Julian does not particularly like Hans.
“He said that without realizing it was a reproach. For him, it was a fact, that was all. […] Hans was one of those people who listens to words, but decodes neither the tone of voice nor the facial expressions of the speaker.”
The three of them chat together for a few minutes and decide to meet up that evening for a concert and then go to watch the turtles lay eggs on a beach. Julian gets back to his bungalow to prepare quickly before heading to meet Master Samtyang again.
Chapter 7 – A second life-changing encounter for Julian
In this chapter of “The Man Who Wanted to be Happy”, Laurent Gounelle tells us about the Julian’s second encounter with the wise old man.
The importance of commitment
Master Samtyang begins by emphasizing the importance of commitment when moving forward. Without this, their talks will be useless.
“If you really want me to accompany you on the path that will take you forward in your life, it is necessary that you do what I ask. If you make do with relying on me and listening to me, not much will happen. Are you ready for an undertaking of that sort?”
Our beliefs create our reality
The conversation about beliefs continues:
“Human beings are very attached to all the things they believe. They don’t go looking for the truth. They just want a certain form of equilibrium, and they manage to build a more or less coherent world for themselves on the basis of their beliefs. It reassures them, and unconsciously they cling to it.”
The healer explains that there is just one reality. Individuals only glimpse one part of things and each person glimpses a different part. Why? Because reality is much too vast for us to be able to grasp it in its entirety. Our subconscious sorts the information and this sorting differs from person to person. Among other things, it depends on our beliefs.
So our beliefs lead us to interpret reality:
“The expressions on my face […], just like my gestures, can be interpreted in different ways. Your beliefs will help you find an interpretation: a smile will be perceived as a sign of friendship, kindness, and seduction, or irony, mockery, and condescension. An insistent gaze might be a sign of strong interest or, on the contrary, a threat, a desire to destabilize. And each person will be convinced of his interpretation. What you believe about the world leads you to give a meaning to all that is ambiguous or uncertain, and that reinforces your beliefs. Once again.”
Then the wise man goes on:
“When you believe something, it leads you to adopt certain behaviors that will have an effect on the behavior of others in a way that will, once again, reinforce what you believe.”
The effect of our unconscious beliefs
Julian is taken aback by all these revelations. He is beginning to understand the strength and the extent of Master Samtyang’s theory:
“I was truly astounded. I now saw that human beings were victims of their own ideas, their own convictions, their own “beliefs,” to use his word. The most awful thing, perhaps, was that they didn’t know it. And for a good reason: they didn’t even realize they believed what they believed. Their beliefs were not conscious.”
The healer ends this topic by explaining that beliefs cover every area. “We have all developed beliefs about ourselves, about others, about our relationships with others, about the world that surrounds us, about everything, more or less. Each one of us carries within himself a constellation of beliefs. They are numberless and direct our lives.”
He warns however, about the fact that we cannot judge our beliefs. We can only state that they are not reality, understanding their positive effects and their limiting effects at the same time. It is also interesting to recognise that certain beliefs lead to more positive effects than others.
The conversation finally comes to an end. Master Samtyang gives Julian two missions:
- First, he invites him to dream while remaining awake. This is about imagining his life if anything was possible. Within this boundless framework, he must dream about what he would do – his job, his pastimes, how things would go:
“You will dream that you are in a world where everything is possible. Imagine there is no limit to what you are capable of achieving. Act as if you had every qualification in the world, all the qualities that exist, a perfect intelligence, highly developed interpersonal skills, a wonderful body—everything you want. Everything is possible.”
- His second mission consists of studying scientific research carried out in the United States into the effects of placebos.
Chapter 8 – If anything was possible, I would be a photographer!
What about a change of job?
Sitting in a restaurant waiting to join his friends at the concert, Julian thinks back to his discussion with the wise old man and begins to dream…
The first thing that comes to his mind, if anything were possible, is that he would change professions. He realises that despite being noble and rewarding, his job as a teacher no longer satisfies him. His pupils don’t seem very interest and there seems to be no point in trying to motivate them. His room for manoeuvre is completely limited by the obligation to strictly apply the official programme using teaching methods that are unsuitable and out dated. He feels caught between the vice of a demanding administration and the constraints in the classroom. Julian dreams of “fresh air” and a radical career change:
“I wanted […] to fulfil myself in an artistic field. I dreamed of making my passion my profession, and my passion was photography.”
The dreams of a man who wanted to be happy
It turns out that what he likes best is capturing the expressions on people’s faces, creating portraits that reveal their personalities, their emotions, the state of their hearts. Julian pictures himself operating out of his own photography studio. He would be very successful, and even a little famous…
“Not one of those factories for churning out dull, posed photos—no, a studio specializing in candid photos that captured the attitudes and personalities of my subjects. My photos would tell stories. Looking at them, you would understand what each person thinks and feels. They would decode the emotions […] I would want to immortalize people’s happiness, also, so that all their lives, with a single glance, they could plug back into the atmosphere and emotions of the big day. A successful photo says so much more than a long speech.” “
Julian pictures his works published in magazines. His talent is finally recognised. He could easily double or triple his teacher’s salary, treat himself to a nice house that he would design himself. He pictures his daily life:
“I would have a garden, and I’d read books there on the weekends, stretched out in a deck chair, in the shade of a lime tree. I would lie in the grass and have a siesta, my nostrils tickled by the scent of the daisies. And then, of course, I’d be with a woman I loved and who loved me. That went without saying.”
Back to reality
When Julian comes back to reality, the touchdown is a little bumpy:
“I was almost surprised to observe that my dream was not enormous. I didn’t need to become a millionaire to be happy, nor to be a rock star or a well-known politician. And yet, this simple dream and the happiness it contained seemed inaccessible. I was almost annoyed with the healer for having half opened a door onto what my life could have been. A door which, once closed again, left a bitter taste. It made obvious to my consciousness the immense gap between dream and reality.”
Laurent Gounelle ends this chapter with the concert.
Chapter 9 – Life: lottery or endless race against time?
The ninth chapter of “The Man Who Wanted to be Happy” is considerably shorter than the earlier ones. Laurent Gounelle describes the birth of turtles on the beach in the company of Julian, Hans and Claudia. It is a new revelation for Julian. When they learn that most of the baby turtles that have just hatched will not survive, that according to the statistics, only one of them will make it, Hans and Claudia’s reactions surprise Julian:
“Life is a lottery,” said Claudia, angrily.
“Life is a perpetual race,” her husband replied. “Only the fastest survive. Those who dawdle, flit around, or allow themselves pleasures die. You must always forge ahead.”
[…] It was extraordinary. In just a few words, each had summed up his vision of life.”
For Julian, “the last piece of the Dutch puzzle” has just fallen into place. Suddenly all of the scenes he had witnessed made sense. He suddenly understands why Claudia has accepted the housewifely role her husband has imposed on her. As she says, she has picked the wrong number in the lottery, and there is nothing she can do about it:
“When you’ve lost, you’ve lost; there’s nothing you can do. You don’t argue when you lose at the casino or the lottery. Things are as they are, and there’s no point in wanting to change them.”
As for Hans, it is easy now to understand his obsession with action and his inability to allow himself time to relax.
Chapter 10 – The placebo effect
In the tenth chapter of “The Man Who Wanted to be Happy”, Julian devotes himself to the second mission that the healer gave him. He performs research and finds scientific studies on the subject of the placebo effect.
Julian’s amazing discoveries about placebos
To do this, he goes to an expensive hotel, the only kind of place that provides an internet connect. He pretends he is staying in another, similar hotel in a different area and urgently needs to connect to the internet. He is given access to a computer in a separate room and begins his research. This is where Julian discoveries the impact of placebos on illnesses. The psychological power of these completely inactive substances turns out to be incredible. Because they think they are taking medicine, the patients are convinced that they are cured. In many cases, this is enough to actually cure them!
“What really made me sit up was the number of cases for which the belief in healing was enough to heal the patient. It was on average 30 percent! Even pains could disappear! A placebo was as effective as morphine in 54 percent of cases! Patients were in pain, they were suffering, and the taking of an ordinary sugar tablet or goodness knows what neutral ingredient stopped their pain. They just had to believe in it.”
Collective beliefs (or ignorance) also hold society back
At first, Julian is dumbfounded by his discoveries:
“I was stunned, astounded by this power of belief, which the healer had so insisted on. It was simply incredible. And yet, the figures were real, published by a laboratory famous for its chemotherapies.”
But at the same time, the revelations make him indignant:
“Why weren’t these statistics revealed to the public? Why not give them to the media? […] If psychological phenomena made it possible to have such an effect on the body and illnesses, why concentrate research on the manufacture of costly drugs, which always had side effects? Why not give more attention to healing sickness by the psychological route?”
Chapter 11 – The “happiness will” of the man who wanted to be happy
When Julian gets to Master Samtyang’s, as agreed, the day after their previous meeting, he is not at home. He has left a note for Julian:
“Before our next meeting:
—Climb Mount Skouwo.
Climbing Mount Skouwo is a walk of several hours in the heat. The idea does not appeal to Julian. But he decides to head for the mountain all the same, before abandoning the idea.
“The nearer I got to Mount Skouwo, the more I was looking for reasons not to climb it. I mustn’t lie to myself, the healer had explained. Well, the truth was that I didn’t at all want to do the climb. I didn’t need to justify it with pseudorational arguments. I would tell the healer the truth tomorrow. And if I was supposed to discover something on the mountain, he would tell me what, and that would suffice. I am capable of understanding when things are explained to me.”
Back home again, he gets down to the other task, writing down everything that came to mind the day before at the restaurant. He gets the strange feeling that he is writing his own “happiness will”. If he were to die, his inheritors would read about the life he wanted to have. As he writes, Julian wonders what is stopping him from living the life he wants. He goes over the points one by one, concentrating on the details. In the end, it is not hard to find the reasons that make it impossible to achieve his dreams, follow his plans, set his ideas in motion and finally reach happiness.
Chapter 12 – New lessons and a personal journey
In this chapter of “The Man Who Wanted to be Happy”, Laurent Gounelle tells us about the third encounter between Julian and the healer.
The message is not what hurts – it is the way it is delivered
The two men begin by talking about the placebo effect. Then they move onto Julian’s dream and the reasons why it is not his current life. Over the course of the conversation, Master Samtyang explains to Julian that truths are preferable to lies and that he should not be afraid to annoy people:
“It’s not the message that annoys, but the means of transmitting it, of expressing it. If you’re tactful, for example, if you thank the other person for their positive intention, you don’t annoy them. Or else, they are particularly sensitive and then, in a way, it’s their problem, not yours. […] When you don’t tell people the truth, you tempt them to get around your arguments, which leads you to lie again.”
Then Julian and Master Samtyang get to the heart of the matter. Why does Julian not open the photo studio he is dreaming of? In reality, Julian is afraid that he is not up to the challenge. The profession is a far cry from his current set of skills.
The healer goes on to develop a number of ideas.
Differentiate between reality and limiting beliefs
To do this, you first have to leave feelings and emotions behind. The wise man gives Julian the steps to follow:
“You will demystify the plan by making a precise list of everything you will have to do to achieve it, then noting for each task what you can do and what you can’t yet do. Then all you have to do is find out how to get the skills you lack.”
The old man invites Julian to be persistent. He uses the example of babies to illustrate this:
“Babies have an enormous amount to teach us. Watch a baby learning to walk: you think he succeeds at the first attempt? He tries to stand up, and—oops!—down he goes. It’s a total failure, and yet he starts again straightaway. He stands up again and … down he goes! A baby will fall on average two thousand times before he can walk.””
Give things up to make progress
Finally, it is vital to make choices and to give up certain things in order to get others. Julian does not want to give up his holidays and his weekends because they are “sacred”, but the healer insists:
“There are circumstances where you have to make choices, and therefore give up things you like, to go toward things that mean more […] If you give nothing up, you are refraining from making choices. And when you refrain from choosing, you refrain from living the life you want.”
Before they say goodbye, the wise man gives Julian a new mission – to ask people for something with the purpose of being refused. He has to get at least five “no”s.
Chapter 13 – The mission of the five “No”s
Laurent Gounelle devotes this entire chapter of “The Man Who Wanted to be Happy” to Julian’s mission to get his requests refused. He thinks it is going to be easy, but realises that it is anything but. Feeling a little desperate about how difficult the task is turning out to be, he goes to a café where he meets Hans, his neighbour…
Chapter 14 – Finally, a refusal!
Julian goes home having collected two “No”s. He thinks back on his evening and his encounter with Hans who gave him his first “no” after a number of attempts which had all ended in failure. For the first time in his life, he enjoyed seeing a face become hard, the eyes freeze and the eyebrows furrow! Julian experiences this “no” like a victory:
“I had almost lifted my arms and looked up to the sky as I fell on my knees, like tennis champions who have just won match point in the final of a grand-slam contest. I could have thrown my arms around his neck and kissed him with gratitude. And I made do with smiling and looking at him in silence, awaiting the pleasure of seeing him justify his position with a phony excuse or two-bit moral. When I said it was a joke, he had laughed, with the forced laugh of someone who is relieved but has kept the contraction brought on by the initial request.”
Chapter 15 – What holds us back from self-realisation
Rethinking the fear of rejection
Laurent Gounelle launches this chapter of “The Man Who Wanted to be Happy” with a dialogue between the healer and Julian. Master Samtyang is not surprised to learn that Julian had a lot of trouble gathering his “no”s. He explains it simply:
“People who are afraid of being rejected,” he went on, “have no idea that it is rare to be turned down by others. It’s difficult to bring about. On the whole, people are inclined to help you, not to disappoint you, to go along with what you expect from them. […] When you learn to go toward others to ask them for what you need, a whole world offers itself to you. Life is about opening up to others, not closing up on oneself. Anything that allows you to connect to others is positive.”
Overcoming the fear of disappointing the people we love
The wise man and Julian now look at what is keeping Julian from changing jobs and living a happier life. Julian explains that he is afraid of disappointing his parents, who do not hold non-intellectual professions in high regard. Master Samtyang reassures him:
“…if we love people only when they behave in conformity with our ideals, it’s not love. I think you have nothing to fear from those who love you. Even in a loving family, everyone must live his own life. It’s good to consider the effects of what we do on others so as not to hurt them. On the other hand, you can’t always take their wishes into account, and even less the way they’re going to judge your actions. Each one of us is responsible for judging himself. You’re not responsible for other people’s opinions.”
Choosing to confide only in positive people
The healer goes on to explain the importance of keeping away from negative people or at least to avoid sharing your plans with them:
“You mustn’t confide in the people who will try to discourage you just to satisfy their own psychological needs. For example, there are people who feel better when you are down and will therefore do anything to stop you from feeling better! Or others who would hate to see you fulfil your dreams because it reminds them of their lack of courage to fulfil theirs. There are also people who feel their standing is enhanced by your difficulties because it gives them the opportunity to help you. In that case, the plans that come from you cut the ground from under their feet, and they will do what they can to dissuade you. There’s no point to being annoyed with them, because they do it unconsciously. But it’s better not to tell them your plans. They will make you lose confidence in yourself.”
Chapter 16 – Beyond preconceptions: money, success and choices
The discussion between the two men continues on the theme of money. Master Samtyang is not surprised by this topic:
“Money crystallizes all our fantasies, our projections, fears, hatreds, jealousies, our inferiority complexes, our superiority complexes, and many other things as well. It would have been astonishing if we didn’t have to tackle it together.”
The wise man reminds Julian that initially, money was “no more than a means of making exchanges between human beings easier: exchanges of goods, but also of skills, services, advice.
Before money, there was barter. A person who needed something was forced to find someone who was interested in what he had to offer in exchange. Not easy. The creation of money allowed the evaluation of each object, each service, and the money collected by the seller then gave him the chance to acquire other goods and services. For the wise man, there is nothing wrong with that. On the contrary:
“In a way, you could even say that the more money circulates, the more exchanges there are between human beings, and the better it is.”
For Master Samtyang, money is not an end in itself:
“In Hindu philosophy, […] it is thought that earning money is a valuable goal, and it corresponds to one of the phases of life. You must just avoid getting stuck in it, and then know how to evolve toward something else to make a success of your life.”
A successful life
The healer now offers his point of view about the meaning of the expression “a successful life”:
“A successful life is a life that you have led in accordance with your wishes, giving the best of yourself in what you do, staying in harmony with who you are, and, if possible, a life that has given us the chance to go beyond yourself, to devote yourself to something other than yourself and to bring something to mankind, even very humbly, even if it’s tiny. A little bird’s feather thrown to the wind. A smile for other people.”
Knowing how to make choices and to take your destiny in hand
Finally, the wise old man brings up the important of remaining in control of our choices and our destiny.
“The more you go through life, the more you get rid of the beliefs that limit you, the more choice you have. And choice is freedom.” […] “You know,” he went on, “you can’t be happy if you see yourself as the victim of events or others’ desires. It is important to understand that it’s always you who decides, whatever it is. Even if you are the lowest of the low at work, you are the director of your life. You’re in command of the controls. You’re the master of your destiny.”
The meeting is over. Julian tells Master Samtyang that he must leave the next afternoon, but the wise man is not available in the morning. Yet Master Samtyang insists that he still has one major teaching to impart to Julian. It is problematic for Julian, because it will be very costly for him to change his flight. The wise man refuses to advise him. He must choose between a final meeting and his plane.
Chapter 17 – The impossible choice: to stay or to go?
In this chapter of “The Man Who Wanted to be Happy”, Julian is hesitating about what to do. Changing his flight will cost him 600 dollars. But on the other hand, he is tempted by the idea of another talk with the healer. It is an impossible choice.
Finally, he decides to go to the travel agency and change his plane ticket. Relieved, he then heads to a café and starts to observe the people there while turning over in his mind everything that he learned in the previous days.
Chapter 18 – The final, unexpected “life lesson” from Master Samtyang for the man who wanted to be happy
Julian is impatient to meet the healer one last time. He wonders about the “major teaching” he spoke about. He wonders how he first came to visit him.
“Why had I decided to meet the healer that first time? What wild stroke of luck had led me to hear of him and to come and see him when, on the face of it, I had no need of him? Life is weird; sometimes tiny decisions have incredible consequences. And years later, you wonder how it would have turned out if you hadn’t, at the time, made that tiny decision but another one. How many times, in the thousands of little crossings of my life, had I opted for the banal path, while the other would have turned out to be marvellous?”
When Julian arrives at the wise man’s home, he isn’t there!
Master Samtyang has left him a note:
“The disappointment, dismay, or perhaps even anger that you must feel as you start to read this message will accompany your transition to a new dimension of your being, one in which you no longer need me to continue your evolution. By making the decision to come today, you have achieved a major apprenticeship for yourself. You developed an ability that was cruelly lacking in you until now: the ability to make a choice that costs you something and therefore to give something up—in other words, to make sacrifices in order to advance on your path. Thus the final obstacle to your self-fulfilment has been broken into pieces. Now you have at your disposal a strength that will accompany you all your life. The path that leads to happiness sometimes requires you to renounce the easy way, to follow the demands of its will in the depths of yourself.
Have a good journey.
Chapter 19 – Climbing Mount Skouwo
After his last encounter with the wise man, which did not take place in the end because Master Samtyang had left him a note, Julian now understands many things and feels much freer. He decides to climb Mount Skouwo.
Chapter 20 – ‘It’s for you to choose and live your life.”
In the final chapter of “The Man Who Wanted to be Happy”, Julian wakes on the beach. The sun is already up. The shore is almost deserted except for a little girl aged five or six who is drawing a ship in the sand. She tells Julian that she would like to be a ship’s captain, but her grandfather talked her out of it because it is a job for a boy, not a girl.” Julian tells her something:
“…don’t ever let anyone tell you what you’re not capable of doing. It’s for you to choose and live your life.”
“The Man Who Wanted to be Happy” ends here, with the description of the little girl who moves away. “She walked off confidently, looking out to sea, where the liner was making its way on the horizon.”
Conclusion of “The Man Who Wanted to be Happy” by Laurent Gounelle
“The Man Who Wanted to be Happy” is a best seller that has been translated into many languages. The author, Laurent Gounelle, is a reference name in the personal development novel genre. However, despite its commercial success, “The Man Who Wanted to be Happy” has met with mixed reviews…
It would appear that how much you appreciate the book varies depending on what you expect from the content. Depending on where you are in your approach to personal development, reader expectations are different. People who have been thinking about their own existence and happiness for some time and who have already done a certain amount of reading and gained a certain amount of knowledge are already certainly past the stage proposed by the author in this story. Other people, however, who have been asking questions for a short time may “discover” themselves and begin to become aware of their possibilities, in the same way as Julian in the story. Those readers will find many avenues to explore in terms of making changes to their lives.
A simple story, but a genuine inner adventure
In this book, Laurent Gounelle tells us a simple story that is mostly built around a number of conversations between an old Asian man and a western tourist on a quest for meaning. That is why, even though the story takes place on the distant island of Bali, we are not carried away by the action. There is no reversal of fortune here, no unexpected plot twist at the end. And yet, despite its lack of adventure, “The Man Who Wanted to be Happy” takes us on a different kind of adventure – that of self-discovery. Better than a journey to far-flung places, it is a journey to one’s inner heart and inner dreams. Readers can visualise the path taken by Laurent Gounelle’s hero and follow it themselves.
The simplicity of Laurent Gounelle’s tone makes the book easily accessible to anyone. It reads very quickly, and even if you don’t fall in love with the book, it still makes for pleasant reading.
Wisdom to lead you along the path to happiness
Throughout this novel, Laurent Gounelle teaches us many lessons about wisdom. “The Man Who Wanted to be Happy” helps us to become aware of the possibilities that lie within us all. All we have to do after reading the book is apply them to our daily lives. He offers lines of thought about how to free ourselves from the chains of our own making. These chains prevent us from leading a life that truly resembles us. However, readers should not expect too much from the “personal development” dimension of the book. Although relevant, the advice contained in Laurent Gounelle’s story is relatively basic and unoriginal.
Interesting avenues of thought
The main subjects tackled in this book can be summarised as follows:
- The power of the mind over the body, and vice-versa;
- The brakes that constitute personal beliefs (such as self-image) and society (the placebo effect);
- Fears to be overcome (fear of disappointing, fear of rejection, for example);
- The choices that we do not make or the poor choices that we make as long as we are not released from our beliefs (e.g. Giving up certain things).
To conclude, “The Man Who Wanted to be Happy” will no doubt be enjoyed by readers who are beginning to ask questions about their life. The novel/thought process concept can be an excellent springboard for taking a great leap towards a new life!
- This book is bound to resonate with your own questioning and it offers some food for thought.
- The balance between fiction and theory is well orchestrated. The concepts are explained simply, through discussions between the wise old man and the narrator, thereby avoiding boring monologues.
- This novel is easy to read, accessible to everyone, enjoyable and illustrative.
- The wisdom of the overall message from the story.
- Some chapters are particularly short and do not add much to the plot.
- There is little action and the pace can be slow.
- The ideas are interesting but are not very developed. To take things further, additional reading is required.
My rating :
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