Cultivate a Shrine.

2011 Happiness Challenge: For those of you following the 2011 Happiness Project Challenge, to make 2011 a happier year — and even if you haven’t officially signed up for the challenge — welcome! Last month’s theme was Time, and last week’s resolution was to Observe the one-minute rule. Did you try that resolution? Did it boost your happiness?

This month’s theme is Possessions, and this week’s resolution is to Cultivate a shrine. (You’ll see that I bungled the William James quotation a bit when I said it; the passage you see on the screen is the correct version.)

Cultivate a shrine. Audio Podcasting

Do you cultivate a shrine, yourself? To what, and how do you do it?

If you want to read more about this resolution, check out…
6 tips for using mementos to keep happy memories vivid.
Need a simple way to boost your mood in one minute? Look at a photo of someone you love.

If you’re new, here’s information on the 2011 Happiness Challenge. It’s never too late to start! You’re not behind, jump in right now, sign up here. For the Challenge, each week I’ll post a video suggesting a resolution for you to consider. For more ideas for resolutions to try, check out the archives of videos here.

* I’ve become very interested in the sense of smell, and found lots of great information on Michael Edwards’s Fragrances of the World site.

* Please subscribe to my YouTube Channel. To get the weekly video by email, right in your email in-box, you can:
— On the GretchenRubin channel page, after you subscribe, click “Edit Subscription” and check the box, “Email me for new uploads.” Or…
— Go to your main drop-down box, click “Subscriptions,” find the GretchenRubin channel, click “Edit Subscriptions,” and check “Email me for new uploads” there.

To get the audio podcast of the video:
— Log in to iTunes
— Go to “Podcasts”
— Search for “The Happiness Project.” Free, of course.

  • Alana in Canada

    A Shrine? What do you mean, exactly? Are you calling a display a shrine?

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes, really, a display. Somehow shrine sounds more dramatic. Also, “display”
      suggests that you’re supposed to look, while “shrine” suggests a place of
      high engagement.

      • Alana in Canada

        Thank you. So, a bookcase is a shrine to books? Oh dear. “Shrine” really has negative connotations for me. Odd that I’ve never noticed that before. It’s dumb, because I like the idea of it–I could reframe it as an “honouring space for (fill in the blank).” Interesting idea, for sure! My mantel is my honouring place for pretty things–and it makes me happy to have it so.

  • I like the link to the tip about looking at a photo of someone you love for an instant mood-booster; I’ve read that keeping a photo of your dog or cat as a background on your phone or computer screen will instantly boost your mood, as well.

    Since I work from home, I can go one better … my cat is curled up next to my computer as I work.

  • fatbob42

    Is there a way to get an RSS feed of the audio? I use mediafly for my podcasts

    • gretchenrubin

      Hmmmm…no. I’ll see if I can figure that out.

  • photopoppy

    Oddly enough, yes, I do have a shrine. It’s unexpected, but has evolved into one.

    It started with a tabletop zen garden that I bought last fall to help destress myself.

    I set it on top of the dvd cabinet and cleared some space.

    Then, this spring, my husband’s mother passed away, and the funeral home gave us a pair of bud vases. So they’re now sitting behind the zen garden, with the little booklet that came with the garden between them and some candles on the outside. Now I’m looking for good quality artificial flowers to go in the vases – as much as I’d like to use real flowers, I know I’d never remember to replace them every few days before they start to get slimy.

    It’s not exactly a mood booster – reminders of death frequently aren’t – but it makes us both feel good to have a memento sitting in a nice place in our home, and it’s a reminder of what we’ve grown through.

    • Maryl

      Poppy, I love the idea of including a memento of your mother-in-law in your shrine, but artificial flowers seem forlorn.  What about some pretty dried (real) flowers?  Or a small orchid plant?  You can find them in the supermarket, they’re only watered once a week, and the blooms can last for months.

      I loved this post.  It caused me realize that my garden is a shrine: I have plants from friends, or that remind me of people, places, and moments.  My father died (in his 80’s)  on my birthday, and the forget-me-nots that bloom at that time are a lovely reminder of him and our wonderful bond.

      • Karen

        Bamboo also lasts a long time, doesn’t need a lot of watering or light

  • Beautifully said Gretchen! I love the idea of shrines – I know I have many…but they ALL could use a little organizing and shining up!!


  • A shrine is a great way to add some deeper meaning to our material possessions. I never really thought about it ’till now. When I get older and have my own place, I would love to dedicate a small room to a CD collection or DVD collection. I could include posters, other memorabilia, and maybe a really nice surround system. It’ll be a fun place to just hang out and reflect on all the great music and movies that have been created over the years.

    Thanks for the idea Gretchen!

  • Armychic73

    Gretchen,  that is so neat that you would mention making a “shrine” because I heard that word just this week.  My sister and her family recently moved to Okinawa and while I was excited about her adventure (she has never been outside the U.S.), I was heartbroken that my two little nephews would be so far away from me.  Once she started posting and emailng photos of them exploring different places on the island and having grand adventures, I started printing out my favorite and the more colorful photos and framing them in ecclectic frames.  I then hauled the framed photos to work and displayed them on my desk in my office.  They make me happy and I feel close to my nephews and I love seeing them photographed visiting different shrines or different beaches or attending different cultural festivals & celebrations.  ANYWAY, one of my co-workers, while admiring my colorful collection of photos, made the comment that I seemed to have a shrine to my sister and her family.  I don’t think he meant it as a bad thing.  I took it as a funny comment and realized that I might have a shrine, but I enjoy the photos so and they bring me much joy!

  • Maryl

    Gretchen: your text says Henry James, but you correctly attribute William James in the video.  BTW, for lots of wonderful WJ quotes, check out

    • gretchenrubin

      THANK YOU! I will correct it now. Yes, William!!

  • Clients

    Do you have sessions with clients?

  • Geraldine

    How interesting, this is something I was just reading about last week in a Feng Shui book. I definitely plan to have several shrines/altars around our home, after we get moved. I think it’s a great way of focusing on a particular wish, desire, goal… thanks for an excellent post.

    I shared your happiness reading list at my new  happy blog:

    hope you will have time to stop in!

    Cheers, Geraldine

  • carlacarla

    For the past few years I have put up a shrine whenever something is bothering or worrying me, or I have something big coming up. My first step is to identify what my intention is rather than what is bothering me. I then create a shrine. So, for example, I was going through a rough patch with my daughter. I made a little shrine with things that reminded me of how much we love each other, that remind me that I am a good mother to her, and that symbolize what I want our relationship to be. I gathered little things and put them on a small tray, and I put a candle on that tray. Every day for a few weeks I focused on each of the little items and on what I wanted, and soon enough I felt like things were better for us.

  • Southernly

    Family dinners are very important in our home, so we have a special, hand-made, wooden chair in the corner where we display photos of the parents and grandparents we have lost. It makes all our gatherings more special to have their spirit there.

  • Work Stress Coaches

    Creating a “sacred place” or shrine is simple to do.  However empty shrines produce no energy.  Create your shrine and go there and put your energy and spirit into it and you will be rewarded.   When asked about what one needs to create a “sacred object,”  Krisnamurti’s response was “you can take a bottle top and worship it for 30 days and it will become holy.”

    Ed Fox

  • James

    In my family we have always had a shrine to Saint Anthony, Saint Francis, the Infant Jesus of Prague, and the Virgin Mary. We light candles there in prayer and in thanks.

  • Inspired by this post, and the part about shrines in “Happier at home”, I made a shrine to poetry. Nothing fancy to start with, just gathering my favorite poetry collections from around the house and giving them their own book shelf. It was so pleasing to see all of them in one place!