The strange facts about happiness…

When I first started reading for my PhD I thought everything I read about happiness research was a ‘fact’. But happiness theory is full of strange studies and less than objective research that in many cases actually has less to do with happiness and more with hegemony, favouring a dominant set of ideas or beliefs. For this GLAM Blog Club theme of strange I’m going to look at the strangest happiness ‘facts’ I’ve read.

I’ve seen these ‘facts’ pop up again and again in library books, journal articles, even Vogue magazine. So it’s time to interrogate the ‘science’ behind three of the most common and yes, strange happiness ‘facts’:

1. Married people are happier than single people: This is a favourite of Martin Seligman in Authentic Happiness. I don’t know the ‘science’ behind it but I’ll bet the research wasn’t qualitative. Clare Payne in her new book, One states that single households are the fastest growing demographic in Australia. You’re condemning a fair chunk of the population to a life of unhappiness and, before marriage equality in Australia, excluding all gay people from ‘happiness’. In some countries believing this study will continue to do so. I think the claim is absolute garbage. And why would you even pursue it unless you had a vested interest in marriage?

2. You can tell how a person’s life will turn out by the smile they had in their class photo: This is another Seligman favourite and was obliterated by Barbara Ehrenreich in her book, Smile or Die. It’s based on a supposed longitudinal study of a graduating class that found people with ‘duchenne’ smiles or ‘smiling with the eyes’ were happier later in life than their classmates. As Ehrenreich revealed no one can actually find proof that this absurd study was ever conducted and so it’s ridiculous premise isn’t even worth deconstructing.

3. You can control 50% of your happiness: This is based on a happiness pie chart that psychologist, Sonya Lyubomirsky drew up. In it she claims that 40% of happiness is genetic, 10% is circumstances and 50% is in your control. As I’ve said before on this blog, I think this is actually a depressing statistic even though happiness theorists laud it as proof of how much agency we have. I also think the theory doesn’t account for the impact of things like war, climate change, natural disasters or colonial invasion where the happiness of a population is so largely disrupted that the 10% of ‘circumstances’ vastly impacts on the other 90% of the puzzle.

These strange ‘happiness facts’ are, of course, not facts at all. Rather they are self serving studies conducted by researchers who are pushing their own agenda. Until we have more diversity in happiness research, more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives and more LGBTIQ+ perspectives happiness theory will continue to be littered with half baked theories and ‘facts’ that only serve the interests of people who are white and heterosexual. Just like politics, journalism and the tech industry what happiness theory needs is diversity.

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Collect happiness: Advice for starting your collection…

What does it mean to collect? The theme of this month’s GLAM Blog Club, collect is also the theme of a chapter in Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. Gretchen says that collections increase our joy and give us a sense of pride. To collect, therefore, is to become happier.

I wrote about my collecting in The Library Collector on the ALIA Sydney blog in 2015. I still collect libraries and it brings me great happiness to see my Instagram account filling with photo tributes to all the libraries I’ve ‘collected’ on my travels here and overseas.

My advice for starting a collection is:

1. Choose to collect something you’re really passionate about. You need to be able to keep it going!

2. Plan ahead how you’ll ‘store’ your collection.

3. Remember that a collection can be digital, it doesn’t have to be made of physical ‘things’. I am currently using Instagram to collect my experiences of living in Brisbane with my own hashtag #imovedtoBrisbane.

4. Collectors are driven by the ‘desire to acquire’ – but don’t get too carried away… even State Libraries have to collect within their budget!

5. Know when to let it go and how. I had a collection of vintage dresses that I had to discard because I moved to a house with a smaller wardrobe. I sold them to a vintage clothing exchange and used the money to help finance my move. I also took comfort in the fact that other people could now wear my years worth of gorgeous finds (and I kept a few of my favourites!)

To collect is to start a happiness project. Your collection will begin small but if you’re patient and invest your time you’ll see it grow. And not only will it bring you happiness but it will also bring happiness to those you choose to share it with! Now, isn’t that what libraries are all about?

How to be a creative (and happier) librarian when you’re… not!

I am not creative. I can’t knit, I can’t sew. I don’t draw or paint and I even have terrible handwriting so this month’s GLAM Blog Club theme of ‘creativity’ does not thrill me. But many books I have read state that creativity is an essential part of happiness. We need to be making things and thinking outside the box in order to have a sense of purpose and a sense of fun.

So I broadened the definition of creativity in order to ensure that even someone like me who is born without a creative gene in their body can be ‘creative’ in some form. Here’s my top five tips on how to redefine creativity to make it more accessible to anyone:

  1. Take a class (and be kind to yourself): I enrolled in a class for making polymer clay necklaces. I was the only person with no ‘creative’ hobbies or experience.  I couldn’t follow most of the instructions and while my classmates produced several beautiful necklaces worthy of Emily Green I managed to make only one small necklace with a few simple pink discs, both lopsided and lumpy. The point, however, is I made that necklace! And I continue to make lumpy necklaces for myself and for my friends because now I can!
  2. Buy some washi tape and decorate your diary: I get a great thrill out of buying patterned washi tape and sticking it all through my paper diary. It’s not the same as being able to draw your own designs but it makes me feel more creative and always brightens my mood.
  3. Make a scrapbook of your holiday: I don’t buy any of the scrapbooking stickers or fancy paper that craft shops sell but if that’s your jam go ahead! I simply find pleasure in arranging my postcards, photographs and ephemera on neat, ordered pages in plain black scrapbooks. The act of arranging the items is creativity for me and I have wonderful keepsakes for all my travelling memories!
  4. Learn some phrases in another language: I use Mango Languages app to learn words and phrases before I travel. So far I’ve dabbled in Polish, Czech, Portuguese and Spanish. Mango Languages is free through my public library so that’s why I use it but there are other language apps that help you learn. I find them easier than taking a class in person because you can go at your own pace and learn anywhere, anytime. With next year being the International Year of Indigenous Languages why not go one better and start learning some words in an Indigenous language? The State Library of Queensland has a whole suite resources to help you! Or visit a museum. I recently learnt how to say ‘budjari gamarruwa’ which means ‘hello’ in Gadigal language by visiting the Gadi exhibition at the Australian Museum.
  5. Cook a new recipe: Cooking is creative. Even if you’re just following a simple recipe you’re making something and you’re exercising the creative part of your brain. Set yourself a challenge to make one new thing a week or pick a daunting recipe and aim to master it by the end of the year. It doesn’t have to super fancy just enough to say “I made this!” and be proud.

So there’s some tips for how to be creative when you’re… not! Creativity is about embracing new things and being brave. What you make doesn’t have to be the best or the prettiest it just has to be made by you.

Purpose is passion to a happier librarian

I’ve just finished reading a book called How To Be Happy At Work by Annie McKee. She says that happiness at work is about having a sense of purpose and meaning. Purpose is tied to passion, the theme of this month’s GLAM Blog Club.

Usually the things we are most passionate about also bring us a sense of purpose. For example, I am passionate about helping people, whether they’re my friends or my clients. I’m also passionate about travel, mental health, Indigenous and LGBQTIA+ rights. Through paid work, volunteering and my PhD study I am following my passions for all of these things and, in turn, I lead a happier, more purposeful life.

My tips for finding purpose through your passions are:

1. Make a list of 10 things that make you happy and think about how you can integrate these into your daily life. They can be as simple as brunch food, Twitter and reading a magazine – just make sure you make room for them and enjoy them.

2. Volunteer! It’s linked to increased happiness and allows you to pursue your passions without changing careers. I volunteered as a mental health community presenter with the Black Dog Institute for five years because it gave me the opportunity to pursue my passion for mental health advocacy while still continuing my other passion of being a librarian (9am-5pm)!

3. This advice is borrowed from Russ Harris’ book, The Happiness Trap but work out what your values are and only pursue work that aligns with them. If you value honesty look for companies with good communication channels and if you value work-life balance choose employers who offer flex time.

That’s my advice, though even I don’t always heed it. I hope if you haven’t found your purpose yet this post on passion will help you get there because both passion and purpose are vital to being a happier librarian!

Want to be a happier librarian? You’re in control!

Believe it or not the theme for this month’s GLAM blog club, control, is a very important part of happiness. Happiness theorists like Sonya Lyubomirsky argue that 50% of our happiness is within our control, 40% is life circumstances and 10% is genetics. Personally I think this statistic is a bit depressing but it does mean that at least half of our happiness is something we can control and therefore, something that can be increased.

Happiness theory states that how happy we are depends on how much control we have over our lives. The more we feel like we’re in control and have a say in what we do the happier we are. For librarians this can be hard – our lives at work are governed by rosters and meetings – things over which we have very little control. We feel trapped, like goldfish in a bowl.

But a wise and happy librarian once told me that the trick is to control what you can and don’t worry about the rest. This is sage advice and something I try to keep in mind to be a happier librarian. It doesn’t help to get upset or anxious about things you can’t control so focus on the things that you can: the coffee you have before your 9am shift on the Information desk, the walk you’ll take on your lunch break, the friend you’re meeting as soon as you finish work on a Friday afternoon. These are all strategies for happiness that you can control. Put them in place and you’ll be a happier librarian before you know it!

Indigenous YA fiction to watch out for…

This month I am combining my GLAM Blog Club post on watch with a post for #LoveOzYABloggers on the theme of Indigenous. So here are three YA books with Indigenous themes which I think you should watch out for.

  1. Songs That Sound Like Blood

Songs that sound like blood

Songs That Sound Like Blood is the story of a young Indigenous girl embarking on her first year at university and falling in love. Roxy is a musician living in a new city and finding out what she wants from life. She meets Ana, a music journalist, with whom she shares a deep connection that moves from girl crush to first love. This is a great novel full of passion and determination. It is written by an Indigenous author and explores the complexities of  being Indigenous, the importance of family and being true to yourself.

 

 

2. Clancy of the Undertow

Clancy of the undertow

Clancy of the Undertow is written by a non-Indigenous author. It follows the journey of a Bundjalung girl who falls for the most popular girl in school. And she ends up getting hurt. The novel explores the dangers of infatuation and the conflicting social worlds that high school students find themselves navigating. Even though this book is not written by an Indigenous author it tells the story of an LGBTQIA+ Indigenous protagonist whose blinding obsession leads her to isolate herself from her friends and family. Her mother gives her a bookmark with an artist’s impression and the word, Bundjalung on it to teach her about her heritage. Not much is made of Clancy’s Indigenous heritage. It would be interesting to know if the author did any community consultation before writing this book.

3. Becoming Kirrali Lewis

Becoming Kirrali Lewis

Becoming Kirrali Lewis is also a story of a young girl in her first year at university. It charts the new friendships she forms and her awakening to a world beyond the family she grew up in. Kirrali goes on a search for her birth mother expecting to be united with the Indigenous family she never knew while growing up. Instead she finds out that her birth mother is not whom she imagined and this calls her whole identity into question. A book about finding who you are and standing up for what you believe in. The violence, discrimination and attitudes towards First Nations people in the 1980s is a real wake-up call and shows just how much prejudice they have had to overcome.

These three novels are YA fiction to watch out for as they show the nuances of different Indigenous characters, the struggle for identity and self-knowledge amidst family conflicts and first love gone wrong. Each of these novels is worth reading because they evoke empathy for the protagonists who are learning how to stand up for themselves and how to make their way in a hostile social world.

Reading books about Indigenous characters is one way to increase understanding for First Nations peoples.  YA fiction helps us to develop cultural competency and teaches us how to see life from someone else’s perspective. Being able to do that makes you happier too!

#LoveOzYABloggers is hosted by #LoveOzYA, a community led organisation dedicated to promoting Australian young adult literature. Keep up to date with all new Aussie YA releases with their monthly newsletter, or find out what’s happening with News and Events, or submit your own!

18 for 2018: Goals to update with happier librarian status and what I learnt in 2017…

What I learnt in 2017 is to make your New Year’s resolutions early because I was in hospital on New Year’s Eve and unable to do one of my favourite things: make New Year’s resolutions. Lucky for me I had already completed the Happier podcast’s 18 for 2018 (which I found in my phone a week later).

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Gretchen Rubin, one of the hosts of Happier, encouraged listeners to make a list of 18 things they wanted to do in 2018. Here are five of mine:

  1. Make a new friend: I love meeting new library people but I also like to have friends outside the profession so I’m waiting to see what surprises 2018 will bring me! As I’ve said many times on this blog, friendships are vital to happiness.
  2. See all the Sydney Living Museums:Cultural activities increase happiness so exploring some more of these should give me all the feels!
  3. Finish my scrapbook of Russia trip (I took in 2014): This is way overdue but creativity is linked to happiness and also to being more innovative at work so I’m hoping that getting in touch with my creative side again will inspire some strategic thinking…
  4. Try a new Professional Development activity (like making a video or a podcast): Learning a new skill boosts happiness. Now in my last year I’ve exhausted most of the suggested activities on the ALIA PD Scheme so it’s time to challenge myself and do something different.
  5. Eat icecream in Japan:I had to modify this one due to getting sick and not being able to undertake a trip to Japan in April (see my previous blog post on mental health and travelling). Instead I’m going to buy a sherbet cone and eat it Nara Peace Park in Canberra, in Spring, during the cherry blossom season. If you’ve seen the movie, New Year’s Eve you’ll know where I get my inspiration from.

So that’s some of my 18 goals to make me a happier librarian in 2018. Among the others are volunteer with a social justice organisation, make a chocolate beetroot fudge cake (with candied beetroot garnish) and read Virginia Woolf’s The Voyage Out (as my lifelong ambition is to read every single one of her books and I’m halfway through).

I look forward to seeing what everyone else will come up with this month, how we’ve grown and continue to grow. A warm welcome to any new GLAM blog clubbers out there!

Be happy, choose life! Rules for work-life balance…

I probably don’t need to say that this month’s GLAM Blog Club theme, balance is vital to happiness. Work-life balance is an actual thing and having it makes you a happier person. I know this because work-life balance is something I’m very good at it.

I work full time, volunteer with three organisations and I’m doing a part-time PhD. Yet in spite of these commitments (and sometimes because of them) I have excellent work-life balance. I don’t have children, flatmates or a partner that I’m obligated to but I’d like to make the point that single people are entitled to work-life balance too. It’s not just for people with children.

If you’re wondering how it’s done, here are my three rules for maintaining work-life balance:

  1. Don’t stay past 5pm: I am lucky to have flexible work hours. Being what Gretchen Rubin calls a ‘lark’ (a morning person) I start work at 7.40am and most days I leave at 4pm. I have one rule: don’t stay past 5pm. THERE IS NO NEED TO! There’s honestly very little in a librarian’s job that would require you to stay late – unless you choose to. Instead leave unfinished work until the morning. Get home early and go for a walk. Read a book, listen to jazz music, call your Mum. Write a blog entry. These are meaningful things that add to happiness and that you actually have time to do if you leave work at 5pm.
  2. Put your friends first: I choose my friends above work, volunteering and PhD study. I think friends are the most important part of happiness. Having friends to share experiences with is a good reminder that you are someone outside of your job. Your friends like you for who you are, not what you do. It’s a far better thing to lose a job than a friend.
  3. Prioritise your happiness: Make being happy a priority. This might mean leaving work unfinished or handing in a less than polished PhD chapter. But happiness is not about working long hours or getting perfect grades. Happiness is the people you have in your life and choosing to spend your time wisely. Reading, being creative, volunteering, visiting cultural institutions, exercising 30 minutes a day and spending time with friends are the top activities recommended by happiness theorists to make you happier. Working, whether at the office or studying, is not one of these things. So think carefully about how you spend your time.

My top three tips for work-life balance are less about work and more about life. If you have any other tips to add please feel free to share them with me in the comments field or on Twitter. And while work does bring a sense of achievement and meaning, make sure that you also be happy and choose life!

Many pairs of ruby slippers: How I ended up here…

I became a Project Officer for a prestigious research library in much the same way that Dorothy found herself in Oz: by following a yellow brick road, one paved with experiences in different industries and workplaces, one that has meant wearing several pairs of ruby slippers and having different versions of ‘home’.

In this blog post I will look at the jobs outside the LIS sector that have shaped my career and the lessons I’ve learnt about happiness from them.

My top three non-library jobs I’ve ‘worn’ like pairs of ruby slippers are:

  1.  Sports newsreader for community radio: This was my first job when I was sixteen and in my second last year of high school. While my friends were serving customers at the local supermarket I spent Saturday mornings at a microphone broadcasting the sports news into the homes of loyal listeners. This experience still gives me confidence in my public speaking abilities. I learnt that being able to communicate with people about the news of the world makes me happy and having a good team really contributes to happiness at work.
  2. ‘Nightfiller’ at Big W: Having avoided the retail ‘rite-of-passage’ I knew it would catch up with me. In my second year of uni I had to defer for six months due to illness. I got a job at Big W where I worked from late afternoon until 3am stocking shelves in the confectionary aisles. Working in retail made me very unhappy but taught me that sometimes a job is just a job. It gives you money to live on and that’s all. We can’t always rely on our jobs to bring us happiness or to add meaning to our lives. A happy librarian knows that career success or fulfilment is not the only way to achieve and maintain happiness – it’s an inside job!
  3. High school tutor: While studying in Canberra I was lucky enough to find a job tutoring Indigenous students in high school English. I enjoyed working with young people. This job gave me skills which I still use today – teaching others, communicating and building empathy. I only lived in Canberra for a short time but, however brief, tutoring Indigenous students was meaningful to me and happiness theorists will tell you that happiness comes from meaning.

I went on to be a journalist for a regional newspaper, a research assistant in Commerce and a Youth Cafe worker helping underprivileged teens before I became a librarian (and then a Project Officer). I encourage everyone to think of their career like Dorothy’s journey through Oz. Expect to meet some colourful characters and fields full of poppies, encounter flying monkeys and the odd wicked witch. But you learn from these experiences. Each job you have, no matter how seemingly small and insignificant, has something to teach about happiness.

A happy librarian is not always a safe librarian… 

One of my favourite ‘wake up calls’ is from the YA novel and film, Paper Towns. Margo Roth Spiegelman holds her thumb and index finger apart and says to the protagonist: “That’s your comfort zone, Quentin. It’s this big!”

The theme of September’s GLAM Blog Club is ‘safe’. So I’m choosing to write about comfort zones, how if we live by the rules of what’s ‘safe’  (whether physically or psychologically) we’d never travel the world or even leave home in the morning.

I have just returned from a month travelling in Europe, which included a trip to Wroclaw, Poland for the World Library & Information Congress. I have bipolar I disorder and medically it’s not ‘safe’ for me to travel. Lack of sleep and changing time zones are triggers for my illness. This is coupled with the anxiety of coordinating flights, negotiating language barriers and navigating new cities. Bipolar disorder is not covered by travel insurance so if I do get sick and I need hospitalisation I have to cover the costs myself. But no one, except for my doctor, seemed to understand how ‘unsafe’ I feel when travelling overseas.

Then I read Kristy Chambers’ book, It’s Not You Geography, It’s Me. She writes from a personal perspective about how hard it is for people with a mental illness to travel. This is due to the risks associated with becoming unwell and the added anxiety that illness brings to travelling. Her book, for me, acknowledged that yes, it’s an actual thing. Travelling is much harder when you have a chronic mental illness like bipolar disorder than when you don’t. There is more to worry about, it’s more ‘unsafe’.

I truly believe that travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer. I saw 17 libraries, including the celebrated Dokk1, on my travels. These are libraries I never would have visited if I played by the rules of what’s ‘safe’ for me. I also never would have chaired an international conference session, sailed on a fjord or swam in the Blue Lagoon.

I think happiness is about creating meaning and adventure in your life, experiencing different places, different cultures, meeting new people and making new friends. None of that comes from being ‘safe’ or not taking risks. It comes instead from stepping outside your comfort zone. For me that’s choosing to get on a plane instead of staying at home, watching re-runs of A Country Practice (though, arguably still the best TV drama ever produced).

If the definition of what’s ‘safe’ is much bigger than a thumb and index finger apart so too is the definition of happiness.