Writing the screenplay to Hector and the Search for Happiness changed us. My co-writer and I took this comic fable very seriously. We asked ourselves some pretty pertinent questions about happiness. And we came away from the process feeling grateful, lucky and, well, happier.
The directing of it, the traveling the world -- now that was hard and fraught with mishaps. And with each disaster we seemed to fall upwards. And the prevailing and remaining feeling of it all? Yup. Happiness. And therein lies the paradox and the lesson.
The film's main conclusion is that the emotion of happiness cannot really be separated. Real happiness is richness. And richness is the full spectrum of all the colors, all the emotions. Yes, we need to embrace it all if we are to stand a chance at being happy.
We gave our best lines about happiness to Christopher Plummer (well, you would, wouldn't you?). As he puts it "Everything in the world is going up, but happiness is going down." Making happiness the goal doesn't work. He talks of how, when we lose ourselves in various activities, we experience happiness as a bi-product and a side effect. And he suggests that "we should concern ourselves not so much with the pursuit of happiness, but more with the happiness of pursuit."
And, more importantly, avoiding unhappiness is not the road to happiness.
It's interesting that in meditation, we are encouraged to 'breathe in the light, to breathe out the black, the toxins etc.' It's meant to 'cleanse' us. I've found the reverse works better: breathing in the black, the dark, the troublesome and breathing out the white, the light. It turns you into a kind of re-processing plant for goodness. It's called 'The Meditation of the Warrior' or 'Tonglen.' It actually makes you fearless.
I used to think the world was made up of many different types of people but I've come to think it's basically two types -- those driven by fear and those driven by love. Look at all those you know and apply that idea to them. It's amazing how they fall into one or the other category. If the latter seem happier, I honestly believe it's because happiness takes courage.
A lot of audiences have told me that the film feels like two hours of intense therapy. Intense if you're prepared to go with it. More have said that it feels like a great big hug. It's a hug you either accept or reject. More than that, I think it's a mirror; you either like or don't like what you see. In that sense, I suppose it's provocative.
Who would have thought a film about happiness could be provocative? Would I change a single frame, knowing that? No. I wanted to make an open-armed film without cynicism while so much cinema feels like sitting in a bleak and noisy ashtray for two hours.
I hope Hollywood continues to recognize the power of the human story and the fact that there is a commodity they might be neglecting: it's sitting there in the drawer. Dust it off and put it out there again. It's remarkably 'commercial.' It's called hope. And its side-effect is called happiness.