In the December 2013 issue of Reader’s Digest, the following essay was reprinted. I liked it so much that I saved it after I was through with the issue. There is much wisdom in it. My paper copy is getting threadbare, so I thought I would reproduce it here. It was originally adapted in 1922 by RD from The New American Magazine. The author is Dr. Frank Crane, a Presbyterian minister.
10 Rooms That Should Be in the House of Life
Perhaps you think you could easily add to your happiness if you had more money. Strange as it may seem, if you’re unsatisfied, the issue is not a lack of means to gratify your desires but a lack of desires–not that you cannot satisfy your tastes but that you don’t have enough tastes.
Innumerable poor wretches have nothing but money. If you are a careful observer, you will see that real riches consist of well-developed and hearty capacities to enjoy life. Most people are already swamped with things. They eat too much, wear too much, go too much, live in too big a house, hear too much, and talk too much. I know people who live in houses of brick and stone where there are too many rooms, yet their house of life is a hut.
Your house of life ought to be a mansion, a royal palace. Every new taste, every additional interest, every fresh enthusiasm adds a room. Here are ten rooms your house of life should have.
“Why art?” you ask. “Why should I cultivate a new desire? I can’t satisfy those I have.” Simply because the world is full of beautiful things. If you only understood how to enjoy them, how to feed your spirit on them, they would make you as happy as to find plenty of ham and eggs when you are hungry.
Literature, classic literature, is a beautiful, richly furnished chamber, wherein, if you only loved it, you might find many an hour of rest and refreshment. To gain that love would go toward making you a rich person, for a rich person is not someone who has a library but who likes a library.
You do not care for Mozart and Bach? You shun the symphony? Poverty is a curse, and poverty of taste is the worst curse of all. Real riches are of the spirit. And when you have brought that spirit up to where classical music feeds it and makes you a little drunk, you have increased your thrills and bettered them. And life is a matter of thrills.
There are many, especially city dwellers, who are dead to the delights of the great outdoors. They are dead to the wonder and witchery of the sky, forest, and stream; they have no craving for the joys of tramping, hunting, exploring, botanizing, geologizing, and stargazing. Is it not better to give a child a taste that will enrich his life than to give him money that may cramp and impoverish it?
There are a number of people who, for one reason or another, have closed or attempted to close the door of their hearts. Many of these have been wounded or betrayed. So, because there os some tragedy in the room of sentiment, they have shut it up and locked the door.
But the fact is that one’s capacity for pain is the exact measure of his capacity for enjoyment. The fullness of life and its richness can be found only by those who are willing to endure the sufferings which equip them for the keener joys. By endeavoring to shut themselves away from all sentiment, they may save themselves pain, but they make their lives drab and empty.
Don’t be afraid to go into the room of love, of friendship, of the piercing experiences that come to you only through the affections. There is doubtless in that room a sword, but there is also a brimming wine cup.
The very cares that children bring, the anxiety and heartbreak, are what you need to make your life rich. Every child is another room in the house of life.
Do you read the sporting pages in the newspaper? Do you dance or play chess or tennis? Can you enjoy a game of pool? It’s a poor person who can’t play. No matter who you are, you would be more human, and your house of life would be better buttressed against the bad days, if you could, and did, play a bit.
Let food stand for all the “animalities.” Do you derive pleasure from the physical rituals of your day? Do you try to appreciate your bed, your clothes, your meals? Do you mark the comforts of your bath, your armchair, your slippers? Suppose you list the small human things that delight you in the day’s round, such as the odor of coffee and bacon, the quiet hour to yourself after the family have gone to bed, the zest of morning, the sense of adventure in going to your work each day, the taste of apples, the pleasure of a brisk walk, the amusing differences in the people you meet, the feel of silk, of books, of your pen. There are a hundred more points of pleasure in your day than you imagine.
Do not boast that you have no religious feeling. You are depriving yourself of something that is your rightful inheritance. Of course the religious feeling has, like all things mixed with human clay, shown sides of pettiness, the angles of disgust, cruelty and unreason, but, withal, it has done much to beautify and ennoble our humanity.
And if I shut myself out from God, from the contemplation of the Infinite, and from that sublimity man gets from religious emotion only, I am harming myself. I want a house of life to have magnificence and splendor. Why should I seal up the chapel because others misuse it?
Most of us have to work. And most of us think we do not like it. As a matter of fact, we do. We should be vastly more miserable without than with work. Without struggle, danger, adventure, hope, fear, and triumph, life is empty–and usually a tremendous bore.
The secret of a contented old age is to keep on adding rooms to the house of life.
Writer Dr. Frank Crane (1861–1928) was a prominent Presbyterian minister and the author of a dozen popular inspirational books. Ten of his articles were published in Reader’s Digest between 1922 and 1924. “Ten Rooms,” which appeared in our third issue, was the first of them.