Today for the first time in years, I checked out a book at the library. The experience of plucking the book from the quiet stacks and carrying it with me back to my office was pleasing, and I was reminded of a summer when I read so many library books my vision literally became blurred. That summer, I fell in love with the freedom to enter any life and any world that I desired to. Best of all, because I’d gotten the books from the library, it didn’t cost me anything. Not one dollar was spent.
Somewhere along the line, I’d forgotten this free source of joy, and I’d be willing to bet that most of my American friends have too. In America, we’re raised to be excellent consumers. To own a book–or anything for that matter–is seen as being both more convenient and more enjoyable than to share it. We were raised to think that owning “stuff” will somehow lead to more happiness, and when we get tired of the stuff we have, it’s time to throw it out and acquire more.
While I could go on and on about how wasteful this mindset is–and how we’ve been manipulated by high-profiting corporations to behave like this–I’ll save that letter for another day. Today’s letter is a reflection on how having a sense of community is a key component of true happiness. That is ultimately why I love library books–besides the fact that they’re free. I feel more connected to the community when I visit the library.
I often watch YouTube videos by a woman who lives in Denmark. Her public library is brimming with movies and books that her family and friends check out regularly. Instead of yard sales or listing things on Facebook Marketplace, she hosts swap parties with friends, where they exchange clothing, decorations, and anything else they wanted to declutter. At Christmas, they get together and craft. Their thrift shops are booming, as is their public health system. This YouTuber even meets friends every morning to go swimming.
There’s a reason why Denmark is consistently ranked one of the happiest countries in the world, and why their life expectancy is higher than the US. It’s because in Denmark, they have a deep sense of community. Experts who study happiness have found that this is crucial to feeling fulfilled, and why people in developed countries are more depressed than ever. The truth is, selfishness, competition, overworking, and retreating into our bubbles (by being alone or only connecting on social media), makes us miserable. We crave human connection–it’s in our DNA–but are great at convincing ourselves that it won’t satisfy us.
While it may be difficult to replicate the same level of community spirit as they have in Denmark, I beg you to try. Visit the library. Volunteer. Plan a potluck with friends. Donate those old jeans instead of throwing them away or selling them, grab coffee at a local cafe instead of Starbucks. Buy your Christmas gifts from town rather than Amazon.
Friends, as you can tell, I’m passionate about this subject. I truly believe we, at least in America, need to revive our community spirit.