Happiness or Meaning: A Library Experience Can Deliver Both

We want happiness. We want meaning in our lives. They need not be mutually exclusive. What they have in common is a life of giving more and taking less. Being a library user is one way to pursue both.

Achieving happiness and meaning are two different things.

Different, but not necessarily mutually exclusive. It is possible to have an experience that results in happiness but also contributes to a life of meaning.

Finding and borrowing a book from the library could certainly qualify. For those who enjoy reading, finding a good book at the library could certainly deliver some happiness. Depending on the book, it could have a mind opening, life altering impact that contributes to an individual’s search for meaning.

It helps to have a better understanding of what we mean when talking about both happiness and meaning. What contributes to each? What have researchers learning about happiness? How would we know if a community member has a meaningful interaction with the library?

In this article I shared insights into what researchers have learned about happiness. While material objects and money can deliver some happiness, those things tend to have only a limited impact.

It’s really the small things that count. Helping others. Enjoying a walk. Memorable experiences count too. Do these experiences also deliver meaning, or is there more to it than just satisfying the search for happiness?

The answer is…it depends.

According to Emily Esfahani Smith, author of the new book, The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters, finding meaning trumps experiencing happiness. On further inspection, the two have some commonality between them.

Esfahani identifies four pillars of meaning:

* sense of belonging – being in a relationship or a member of a community
* purpose – having a mission and pursuing it
* storytelling – your story; who you are; where you are from; where you are headed
* transcendence – resilence; having the ability to overcome adversity

You start to get the idea that the difference between the two is about direction and effort. Happiness is about something happening to us versus meaning being about making something happening for others. Esfahani states that “the big distinctions between a meaningful life and a happy life is that a meaningful life can be a hard life. When you’re giving back, you’re making sacrifices.”

In that sense, the library is a place that can serve to facilitate both happiness and meaning. If we are seeking some happiness, we can get it at the library. Finding a good book and enjoying reading are the type of small, everyday pleasures that bring happiness. I don’t think that Esfahani thinks there is anything inherently wrong with seeking happiness. She just wants us to transcend happiness as we pursue meaning.

And the library is a place where it can happen. It’s a place you can belong to and be a part of your community. It’s a place where you find and pursue a mission. It’s a place where you can discover your story. It’s a place where you transcend the ordinary and the meaningless.

Happiness or meaning? Why choose when you can find both at the library.

Author: StevenB

Steven Bell is currently Associate University Librarian for Research and Instructional Services at Temple University, and was previously Director of the Library at Philadelphia University. Steven is the author of two regular columns published by Library Journal, From the Bell Tower and Leading From the Library. With John Shank he is co-founder of the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community. Bell and Shank are also authors of the book Academic Librarianship by Design. Bell’s latest book is Crucible Moments: Inspiring Library Leadership. More information is found at his website.

1 thought on “Happiness or Meaning: A Library Experience Can Deliver Both”

  1. Thanks for sharing. It’s absolutely true that in the library users not only find happiness but also meaning as they use the available resources and services.

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