The Pursuit of Happiness

14 Nov

I am in the midst of reading a book by this guy:

Shawn Achor, Good Think, Inc.

I’m reading his book, The Happiness Advantage, because I was so intrigued by his TED Talk (above) when I watched it over the weekend, that I almost immediately used one of my credits at Audible.com to purchase it. So yes, okay, this means that I’m not really reading the book, I’m listening to it. However, I was so taken by listening to it, that I’m picking up a copy of it today from my local bookstore. I need to take notes. I need to write in the margins. I need margins.

I’ve read a good bit about positive psychology over the years. I’ve read the works of Martin Seligman and Carol Dweck and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, among others. I’ve also read Norman Vincent Peale, though admittedly, he’s in a different camp altogether. Sort of. The power of our minds is fascinating to me. I’m always asking or wondering why some people succeed at things while others fail, why some people see possibilities where others see roadblocks, why do some see the glass half full, the sky as the limit, and life as a journey, never a destination? Are we simply born with certain propensities towards certain mindsets, or is it possible to learn how to see the world in a way that helps us focus on the possibilities, the journeys, or the sky?

We had a terrific meeting of informationists here last week. All eight NIH-funded projects were represented. Each person had the chance to share about her (yes, all women) project. It was fascinating to hear everyone talk about the research teams of which they’re a part. It was fascinating not only because of the science, but because the many different things we see that people are doing in this role. We spent Thursday morning, as a group, discussing our projects and tasks, seeking to identify those common to all of us; trying to determine the list of services that might emerge from the informationist role so that a library with such a staff member could say, “We can do this… this… this… ” when speaking to researchers.

So, you may be wondering, what are these things (and what in the world do they have to do with happiness). While there is certainly a lot of variety, it does seem like everyone is providing some of the same things to their research teams:

  • Literature searching and creating tools to aid in searching
  • Bibliographic management
  • Knowledge management
  • Training in information literacy, including improving searching skills

Looks like a pretty standard list of library services, doesn’t it? I wonder if this is because for most researchers approached by a library with the request to embed an informationist into their research team, their initial thought was/is, “library – librarian – librarian skills”. And that’s okay with me. These ARE areas of expertise for me and for others in my profession. It’s what we know.

The NIH-funded supplements are different, however, in that they also required recipients to provide some service, skill and/or expertise in the area of data and here, we seemed to diverge. While they all fall under a big umbrella of “data management,” what this means is… well, you decide:

  • Creating or documenting workflow to organize and manage research data
  • Constructing and/or providing metadata
  • Creating a controlled vocabulary
  • Creating a data dictionary
  • Addressing data privacy and security issues
  • Advising on repositories and other data storage/archiving tools
  • Recommending data preservation and sharing strategies
  • Abstracting data from the literature
  • Recommending strategies for capturing, storing and accessing  data
  • Evaluating, refining and recommending data entry and querying tools

While these tasks involve, for most everyone, some learning curve, the fact that they also differ so greatly struck me as a pretty clear sign that we are making our way into pretty new territory. When librarians go to researchers and say that we can help them with their data, the discussions that evolve around what that help looks like seem to be across the board. What this means for the future, i.e. for our ability to definitively say that an informationist does “X, Y, and Z,” remains to be seen. The services may well be individualized – unique to the library and/or librarian filling the role. They may well be dependent upon what needs the researchers have and whether or not those needs fit with the skills of the library staff at the time.

I imagine that there was a time, once upon a time, when librarians first learned how to do reference. There was a time when library school curricula had to be developed to teach librarians the art of the reference interview, the nuances and peculiarities of all of the reference sources available, how to deliver answers in a concise manner, how to teach patrons to search for themselves. The skills that librarians needed had to be identified and then taught to a workforce. I imagine that this is where we are now, in the world of “informationisting”. We’re not really clear, yet, just what this role entails, at least not entirely. We’re not yet sure how it will fit within the traditional structure of the library. The jury has really just left the courtroom and I’m thinking that the deliberations might take awhile.

And so now you REALLY might be wondering what the heck any of this has to do with happiness. Well, if you haven’t yet watched Achor’s talk, do so now. But if you just can’t be troubled at the moment, let me try to summarize…

People spend an awful lot of time pursuing success, believing that when they achieve success, they will find happiness. Achor’s “happiness advantage” states that this idea, however, is backwards. He posits that we find success easier, faster, and better when we start out happy. Being happy, he claims (and cites a great deal of research to support his theory), makes people think clearer, be more creative, be better at problem solving, and a whole host of other attributes that lead us to success. Negativity, neutrality and fixed thinking (see Carol Dweck’s work) lead people to … well, to the same old place they’ve always been. Maybe that’s okay in a whole lot of situations, but for a profession seeking to deal with the constant barrage of change, it’s not going to prove very useful. Indeed, it may well prove to be librarianship’s biggest downfall.

Someone made a comment after last Thursday’s follow-up meeting that the room was filled with very confident people. Studies in entrepreneurship show that confidence, more than any other attribute, is the best determinant of success for people seeking to start their own businesses or ventures. In many ways, that’s exactly what this adventure in embedded librarianship is seeking to do, i.e. to create new businesses, new models of service, new ventures for librarians. We need confident people in these roles. Not delusional people, mind you, but confident ones. Confident, positive and yes, happy, people.

Gotta go pick up my copy now!

5 Responses to “The Pursuit of Happiness”

  1. Michelle Eberle November 15, 2012 at 9:12 am #

    I am also very interested in positive psychology and how it benefits us personally and professionally. You mentioned, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in your post. His book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, is one of my favorites. Aiming for a state of flow, feeling fully engaged, energized and in the moment with our work, is central to the quality of the work produced and quality of the experience.

    • salgore November 15, 2012 at 10:14 am #

      I also really like his book, “Creativity”. This probably doesn’t surprise you, or anyone who knows me and my love of/fascination with the concept of creativity. 🙂

  2. Jenny Miglus November 15, 2012 at 10:25 am #

    It was a great conference, Sally. Thanks for pulling it off so smoothly – even in the snow! I came home and made a list of the skills that all the presenters described, just as you did. It was really helpful to have concrete examples of what informationists are actually doing on the ground. And not surprising, really, that there was variation.

    I’m HAPPY to be part of this new adventure.

    • salgore November 15, 2012 at 11:28 am #

      Thanks, Jenny! Do let me know if you spot some skills that I missed.

      I’m glad to hear that you found it to be a good day.

  3. Stephanie November 16, 2012 at 11:27 am #

    This is something that is often on my mind. I have read many books on happiness, positive thinking, and the Law of Attraction, which is so closely related to this topic. Happier people are more successful because they are positive and attract more positive energy (including other positive people). I’ll have to get his book.

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