I tend to focus on three distinct categories here: building wealth, becoming happier, and thinking smarter. Usually there is some overlap between these subjects. Even if there is not a direct overlap, there is always at least some connection behind the scenes. Correcting cognitive biases can make you wealthier. Well-spent money can make you happier. Being happier can lead you to better performance at your job.
But today I want to talk about a tool that allows you to hit all three of these subjects directly. The library.
I have good memories of the library growing up. When I was young I would spend a lot of time there and participate in the summer reading challenges. When I was in high school I would request books online and pick them up from the front desk. (I was presumably too busy and important at that point to walk through the stacks and pick up the books myself.)
But I hadn’t joined the library when I moved away for college. We had the school library, but I didn’t use that beyond necessary research for class. After starting law school, my outside reading dropped off entirely (with the exception of some new books by favorite authors).
This changed a few years after I left school when I discovered that I could actually download ebooks to my tablet from the library. Free, instantaneous, and convenient!
But you don’t come here for my life story with regards to libraries. (I assume.) How does a library make you happier, smarter, and wealthier?
First, since I started reading again, I have felt far more energetic, happy, and productive. In increasing the free time that I spend reading, I ended up cutting back on the time that I spent watching TV. Personally, I found that this helped keep my mind much clearer. This is not to say that all TV is bad or that I don’t watch any TV anymore, but for whatever reason I have felt much more upbeat and focused since cutting back on marathon streaming sessions and mindlessly watching whatever happens to be on HGTV. (When I lived by myself it was whatever happened to be on ESPN, but then marriage happened.)
There is at least one study that backs me up here. A 2015 study in Italy found that readers were happier than non-readers. It also found that readers felt positive emotions more often and felt negative emotions less often. (Readers were also more satisfied with how they spend their free time, which I will also vouch for.)
(Also keep in mind that the study found correlation, which is not necessarily causation. It is entirely possible that people in the study read more often because they were happier, not the other way around. Still, seems worth giving reading more a try to see if it makes you personally happier.)
There was also an interesting study in Science (the magazine, not the extremely broad area of study) finding that reading literary fiction increases your empathy and capacity to comprehend others’ beliefs and opinions.
Finally (at least on the happiness front) there is Bibliotherapy, which involves the use of books as a form of therapy. I haven’t done much research in this area (or tried it myself) so I can’t vouch for it, but the practitioners assert that reading has effects and health benefits similar to meditation and can also lower stress levels and increase self-esteem.
Reading also makes you smarter. In addition to studies finding that reading in general makes you smarter, reading nonfiction also allows you to develop your knowledge in specific subject areas.
The vast majority of the knowledge that I gained prior to starting this blog has been through reading books on personal finance (like this, this, this, this, and this), investing (like this, this, this, this, and this), decision-making and cognitive biases (like this, this, this, and this), and happiness (like this, this, this, this, and this), along with a whole bunch of other subjects that interest me.
(If blindly clicking on links is not your thing, check out the new Books page for a roundup of the books linked in the last paragraph as well as books referenced in other articles.)
Try reading books on a different subjects and see if anything grabs you. You might just find a new passion.
Okay, so we’ve discussed how reading can make you happier and smarter (including smarter with regards to finance and investing), but that doesn’t necessarily equate to the library being a triple threat.
Some of you may see where I’m going with this, but the important thing about the library is that the books are free!
According to goodreads.com, I have read over 150 books in the past two and a half years (when I started keeping track of the books I was reading). Almost all of those books came from the library. That is thousands of dollars in savings.
To be fair, I probably would not have read anywhere near that many books if I was paying for them as I went, so that number is certainly overstated. But that also means that by using my library card I am increasing the amount of reading that I am doing, which in turn increases the happiness and intelligence boost that I am getting.
So the library is a tool that can make you happier, smarter, and richer. And that’s not even touching on the other benefits of libraries! They are quiet places to read and work. Wandering the stacks may lead you to books that you would not otherwise have read. They also often offer free groups and classes. (In fact, I participate in a monthly writing group at my library.)
So if you don’t have a library card, go get one. If you have a card, but haven’t been using it, then start! And if you have been using your library, tell us about it in the comments!