Most people would probably agree that it's good to read. We've all heard this since childhood and continue to repeat it to our own children. But just how beneficial is reading really? What does it do for our minds and hearts? And fiction books? How do they help?
I was surprised to find out that there had been scientific studies done on the subject. Trust me, by the end of this post, you'll be reaching for your stash of unfinished novels or your e-reader. So, let's dive right into it.
(I've included some references to studies. More information can be found online).
1. Reading fiction books makes you nicer
It increases empathy, compassion, and the ability to understand others.
Turns out that people who have "their nose in the book" receive a measurable boost in Emotional Intelligence (EQ).
You've probably heard a quote by George R.R. Martin: "A reader lives a thousand lives..." Scientists confirmed what authors and book lovers already knew - reading produces a vivid simulation of reality. We put ourselves in the characters' shoes, trying to decipher their motivations, intentions, and inner thoughts. Their joys and sorrows become ours. And that's an essence of empathy (ref).
Different stories help us encounter a range of personalities, relationships, and circumstances. They teach us about people from different cultures and walks of life. All of this broadens our views. As a result, reading makes us more willing to see things from another person's perspective. It helps us to collaborate and find ways to connect. We become more inclusive and let go of our stereotypes.
Speaking of stereotypes, let's break down the one that labels bookish individuals as unsociable. Whether they want to mingle is another question, but reading actually improves social skills. Not only do well-read people have more to talk about, but they also find ways to help the other person feel understood. Who wouldn't want to have such a friend or co-worker?
The types of books we read have slightly different effects too. A few studies found that people who read Fantasy and SciFi specifically, are better romantic partners (ref). Why? They are more creative in handling disagreements, flexible about the relationship roles, and willing to give their significant other a chance to improve.
2. Reading fiction books makes you smarter
It improves brain function, vocabulary, and communication skills.
Literature improves the neural connectivity of the brain (ref). What does this mean? When we read, our minds are constantly engaged as we think through the events, try to figure out what might happen next, recall details, etc. This in turn helps us make connections in the real world, noticing details and making analogies that help us understand new concepts.
Reading improves memory, helping you stay sharp and even slowing age-related cognitive declines. Stories train our brains to convert information to long-term memory, juggle numerous details, and visualize things. All beneficial for cognitive function.
Books also improve our vocabulary and language comprehension. It makes you a better
communicator as you learn new ways to present ideas and structure sentences. You'll have something to say in any situation because you have a broader perspective on things.
Fiction books increase our critical thinking and problem-solving skills. SciFi and Fantasy novels, for example, often explore complex issues, both social and economic, creating characters that influence change. As we dive into the magical realms with limitless possibilities, our own imagination and creativity receive a boost.
Avid readers are often able to think outside the box. It's not a surprise then to find out that highly successful individuals read a lot, not only non-fiction but fiction as well.
3. Reading fiction books makes you calmer
It reduces stress levels, builds resilience, and just makes us feel good.
In today's reality that lately has been looking like an apocalyptic movie, we need to have an avenue to escape, disengage, and rest. When we constantly stay busy or stressed about something, it reduces our productivity and overall functioning. What better way to recharge than with a good book?
Reading has been shown to induce a state of deep relaxation and inner calm. People who read regularly, sleep better, have lower stress levels, and are less likely to get depressed. According to one study, reading is better at reducing stress than listening to music, drinking tea, or walking (ref). While your mind is preoccupied with the story, your muscles relax and your heart rate goes down. A few researchers have even found that people who read books live longer than those who don't! (ref)
Reading Fantasy and SciFi, specifically, can build resilience and help you cope better with reality. These types of stories teach us that changes are inevitable and that it's possible to overcome obstacles while learning a few valuable lessons in the process. Reading about fictional worlds can help us better understand the world around us and face it bravely.
Reading is a form of entertainment. It's a pleasurable activity. A satisfactory ending of a book produces a feel-good factor that releases dopamine. No wonder it can be so addictive! But it's a healthy craving that improves our mood and possibly an outlook on life as a whole.
Have I convinced you yet to pick up a book?
P.S. On average people in the U.S. read about 4 books a year and spend less than 30 minutes a day reading overall (ref).
Let's change that statistic! Check out some of the bookish resources below: