Get Smarter, Richer, and Happier. Go to the Library.

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?

HAPPIER

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.

SMARTER

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.

WEALTHIER

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!

12 thoughts on “Get Smarter, Richer, and Happier. Go to the Library.”

  1. Thanks for the reminder of the wonderful and free resources available in our libraries. When I was a little girl I loved going to the library on Saturdays, or taking a big stack of books out over summer vacation. Most people I know who take advantage of libraries as adults were exposed to libraries when they were children. Nowadays I do a combination of fiction/nonfiction and print/electronic books.

    1. I hadn’t thought of the link between adult library use and childhood library use, but I can totally see that connection. I also have been trying to balance fiction/nonfiction and print/electronic books. I was a long time holdout against electronic books, but they are just so convenient. I can take a whole library full of books with me wherever I go and it only weighs as much as my ipad.

  2. I love going to the library so much. I would make it my second home if I could. One thing that I don’t like about going to the library in the city that I live on, however, is the security of wifi’s. The wifi don’t even require a password to get accessed and that made me so nervous, especially when I was working on my blog. Don’t want a hacker getting my information!

    1. That’s a fair concern. I tend to avoid using the Internet at the library. I find that I can get a lot more writing done if I don’t tempt myself with the many distractions of the Internet, so if I am writing at the library I will get research done ahead of time or make notes as I go of areas I would like to do more research before doing the next draft.

    2. That’s fair. I tend not to use the Internet at the library. If I am writing at the library it is usually because I needed a distraction-free zone, so I avoid even connecting to the Internet to avoid the temptation presented by the many distractions on the Internet.

  3. As a librarian, I love this post!

    I tend to borrow both the physical copy of the book I’m reading (for reading in bed) and the ebook (for when I can sneak a few minutes of reading time in on my phone.) I feel a little bad taking two copies out of circulatoin, but I rationalize it by thinking about how much faster I get them both returned.

    1. I may have to steal your approach! I have gotten into the habit of reading two different books at once – a physical book for when it is accessible and an ebook for when I can sneak a few minutes hear and there. I think I like your method better.

  4. Matt, great post and I agree with you that reading is awesome on so many levels, especially if the alternative is binging on Netfliex or surfing the internet mindlessly.

    In b-school, I remember one of the students asked our favorite professor what advice he had for all of us upon graduation. His only advice was to read every night before bed for :30 minutes. I thought it was odd advice at the time, but I’ve actually worked this into my routine and I can attest to the fact that it is life changing!

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