For my new book Happier at Home, I undertook many resolutions meant to help me be…happier at home! Of everything I tried, one of my favorite resolutions was to “Cultivate a shrine,” that is, make the effort to transform areas of my apartment into places of super-engagement. One of these shrines became my “Shrine to Children’s Literature.”
A few years ago, following my commandment to “Be Gretchen,” I’d embraced my love for children’s and young-adult literature. Until then, I’d ignored my fanatical love for books such as The Secret Garden, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and Black and Blue Magic, because I thought it didn’t fit with my self-image as a sophisticated, serious-minded adult. However, when I began to acknowledge my true likes and dislikes, instead of being distracted by what I wished I liked or thought I ought to like, I started a children’s literature reading group. This kidlit group proved so popular, and grew so large, that I had to start another group, and then still another group. Yep, I’m in three kidlit groups–and to think, I’d assumed that I was the only adult who loved these books!
Membership in these three groups meant I made time in my schedule to read and discuss these books; I decided to make a physical place for them, as well. My children’s and YA books were scattered around the apartment in a very unorganized way, and I decided to gather them into a Shrine to Children’s Literature.
“What are you doing?” my husband asked when he saw me sitting on the floor and sorting stacks of books into alphabetical piles.
“I’m making a Shrine to Children’s Literature,” I replied.
“Oh,” he said, without a flicker of surprise. “I thought you did that a long time ago.” He vanished quickly, to avoid getting conscripted into book sorting, I’m sure.
As I divided the books into untidy stacks on the rug, it occurred to me that my personal commandment to “Be Gretchen” is so important that it deserved to be enshrined as the Fifth Splendid Truth: I can build a happy life only on the foundation of my own nature. A Shrine to Children’s Literature wasn’t a universal formula for happiness, but it made me happier.
Before long I was gloating over my collection, all my beloved titles lined up together. My collection of Cricket magazines from decades ago. Harry Potter. My beloved Little House books (on the last page of Happier at Home, I quote my favorite passage from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s work). Elizabeth Enright and Edward Eager. Mary Stoltz—she should get more attention. Streatfield, Canfield, Travers, Collins, Cashore, Montgomery, L’Engle, Tolkien, Alcott, Konigsberg—so many wonderful books. The centerpiece was the gorgeous copy of Four to Llewelyn’s Edge, the illustrated children’s book I’d made with a friend. Inspired by J. M. Barrie’s brilliant skeleton of a book, The Boy Castaways of Black Lake Island, in which photographs of the Llewelyn Davies boys sketch a pirate adventure, my friend and I made photographs of our children in Central Park and turned the pictures into a book.
What a delightful shrine! Just standing in front of these shelves makes me happy. Now it’s one of my favorite places in my apartment.
Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times and international bestseller, The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. Her newest book, Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life (Crown Archetype), will be available on September 4, 2012.
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