Recently, I have read a great deal on the subject of happiness – everything from self-help manuals to scientific tomes on the chemistry of the brain.

I write books – memoirs about my life in France – that (I’m told) make people feel happy and that are often described as ‘better than anti-depressants’. But when life threw me two curve balls in rapid succession – I won’t relay those unhappy events here but they are described in my latest book, Tout Soul: The Pursuit of Happiness in Rural France – happiness was suddenly in short supply.

With the sun stripped from my world, I decided to read my way out of the gloom. Below are some of the books that I consider to be ‘literary Prozac’ – books that lift the spirits and make the world seem like a better place.

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim
Written in 1922, this overlooked classic is full of ‘wisteria and sunshine’, dry wit, and wonderful descriptions of a Mediterranean garden in spring. The story is simple but charming: four women who don’t know each other spend a week in a castle in Portofino, Italy and help to transform each other’s lives. The resolutely cheerful Mrs Wilkins, a woman saddled with a dullard of a husband, is a particular inspiration.

‘I see it,’ she says time and again, and the thing that she ‘sees’ subsequently becomes reality. The plot might seem superficial but under the beautifully drawn surface – von Arnim excelled at describing nature  – there are some perceptive psychological truths about goodness, selflessness and the power of positive thinking.

Hector & the Search for Happiness by Francois Lelord
This is basically a self-help disguised as a child-like novel. Hector is a psychiatrist – as is the author – with a string of wealthy Parisian clients, who have no real problems but who are desperately unhappy. Worn down by the daily parade of misery, he takes a long holiday, traveling around the world in search of the secret of happiness. In fact, he nails over twenty secrets, including ‘happiness comes when you least expect it’ and ‘happiness lies in being useful to others’. Hector’s revelations are not earth-rocking but they are beautifully and humorously enunciated.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
In this novel, written in 1932, the briskly cheerful heroine, Flora Poste goes to live with her cousins at Cold Comfort farm, a grim and inhospitable place, inhabited by people who enjoy being miserable. Flora rises above her bleak surroundings and proceeds to transform the lives of those around her, from the doggedly woeful Aunt Ada Doom, to Big Business, the bull, who spends his life in a dark shed until Flora lets him out for ‘air and sunlight’. Behind the subtle comedy, there are lessons in life for us all.

Karen Wheeler also has a blog, www.toutsweet.net and you can follow her on Twitter: @mimipompom1

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12 comments

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lv it

http://www.haideeandco.blogspot.com

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I think I’m going to have to read Hector & the Search for Happiness…

http://www.offdutychic.com

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Just had a quick look at your blog… Will also be purchasing your novel Tout Soul… I love your writing voice already!

http://www.offdutychic.com

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@Natalie: Thanks Natalie – hope you enjoy Tout Soul.

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So lovely to see one of my favorites, Cold Comfort Farm, on here. For other “literary Prozac” I also swear by Miss Pettigrew Lives for the Day, which I first heard about on this blog!

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It’s probably a sign of my inherent perversity (the author killed himself), but You Can’t Win by Jack Black is for me a song of human strength in the face of, and in acceptance of, human ephemerality.

Another one, not a book, but just a kernel: I read a biography of Isak Dinesen a long time ago. She maintained that there were three kinds of happiness. First, and lowest in rank, was the cessation of pain, such as the day after a terrible hangover. Second, and slightly better, was the feeling that you were following your destiny, you were on the exact path you were ordained to walk. Third and best of all is the feeling of being connected to all things. This breakdown has come back to me many times over the years…I think she was spot on.

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@annemarie: Hi Annemarie, really interesting.. I think Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen of Out of Africa fame?) is spot on with the three levels of happiness & hadn’t read that anywhere else so many thanks.

v best

Karen

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Great choices – and isn’t it great to revisit books which are not just new off the press and currently being reviewed? lest we forget…

Bit of a horrid husband theme there though!

XXXX

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A lovely post, Karen. I adored Tout Soul and can’t wait for your next book. And you’ve made me want to re-read Cold Comfort Farm!

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GOING TO ORDER COLD COMFORT FARM…..SOUNDS INSPIRATIONAL…..SOUNDS MY KIND OF READ.AMAZON HERE I COME

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Thanks everyone for the comments and additional suggestions. I do agree that it is nice to read ‘forgotten gems’ and not just new stuff.

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