What I Learned About Happiness From My Love of Harry Potter: Lesson #1

harry potter train

One extraordinary source of happiness for me these days is the knowledge that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (or HP7, as I affectionately call it) will be clutched in my hot little hands in less than a week.

And upon reflection, I realize that my love for the Harry Potter books has taught me several important things about the nature of happiness.

First is the truth, and the primacy, and the challenge, of my First Commandment: “Be Gretchen.”

One fact about me is I have an enormous love for children’s literature. I love it, I just love it. I still haven’t figured out what I get from children’s literature that I don’t get from adult literature, but there’s something.

But for a long time, I didn’t admit my passionate interest in kidlit. It didn’t fit with my ideas of what I wished I were like. It wasn’t grown-up enough. I wanted to be interested in constitutional law, and serious literature, and the economy, and other adult subjects. And I was interested in those topics, but I somehow felt that I needed to hide my love of Philip Pullman and Louisa May Alcott. I repressed this side of my personality to such a degree that when the third Harry Potter book came out, I didn’t buy it for several days. I’d fooled even myself into thinking that I didn’t care.

When I started The Happiness Project, I realized that I should try to embrace this suppressed passion, but I wasn’t sure exactly how to go about doing that.

Then one day, I had lunch with an acquaintance—someone I hoped could be a friend but who wasn’t a friend yet. She was young, polished, highly educated, a well-established literary agent, and quite intimidating. But somehow it emerged that she, too, was a Harry Potter…well, freak captures the intensity of her enthusiasm. And she loved children’s literature, too. I’d found a kindred spirit.

Then it occurred to me—I knew a third person, as well. Could we start a book group? For adults reading children’s literature? Would anyone else want to do that? I decided to see if I could organize one.

Now comes the Oprah-ish part of the story: not only did it turn out that a lot of people were interested in children’s literature, but they were all highly bookish, accomplished, interesting people—and most of them I’d known, at least a little bit, before. Once I spoke up, I discovered that I already knew and liked many people who shared my interest.

Now this children’s literature book group is one of the joys of my life.

The first time our group met, I set around an email with the details (we were discussing C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe over dinner), and I included a quotation from C. S. Lewis’s brilliant essay, On Three Ways of Writing for Children:

When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

But I realized that this apologia didn’t mean much to anyone else in the group, because they’d never tried to squash their interest in children’s literature. Why had I? Remember, Be Gretchen.



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