I love books. I love getting lost in a good story . . . meeting characters I can identify with . . . living out adventures I may never have in real life. It’s hard for me to imagine that not everyone enjoys books the way I do, and that book reading is on the decline.
While social media and internet surfing have us spending more overall time reading than we did 10 or 15 years ago, the reading is mostly shallow. As we hop from one post to the next, our brains are kept in a state of constant motion. Internet reading rarely draws the reader into deep, brain strengthening thought. Year-by-year, the average attention span of both adults and children is getting shorter (this scares me!); the lack of rich, thought-provoking reading is at least partly to blame.
If you’ve gotten out of the habit of reading books, consider these benefits:
- Book reading improves the ability to focus. The discipline of reading a book—even if it’s just one chapter at a time—increases attention span, which carries over into other areas of life. It improves problem solving ability and the ability to pay attention in class, in conversations, in meetings, while driving, and so on.
- Book reading is relaxing. Research has shown that reading silently for just 6 minutes slows heart rate and eases muscle tension. Reading is more effective for relaxation than listening to music, going for a walk, or having a cup of tea. People who read regularly experience better sleep, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers.
- Book reading improves vocabulary. Having a good vocabulary increases your ability to express yourself, to understand others, and to interact with a wider range of people. It increases confidence in social and professional settings and is crucial for doing well on standardized tests such as college entrance exams.
- Book reading is the most direct way to gain wisdom. Almost anything you can possibly want to know can be found in a book. So whether you are hoping to someday appear on Jeopardy or you just want to be a better conversationalist, book reading is good for you. I like this Twitter tweet from author Mark Batterson: “My philosophy of reading: 1 book = 2 years of wisdom. Read 50 books this year and gain 100 years of life experience.” (I’ve read several of his books . . . he’s a very wise man!)
- Book reading may delay the onset of dementia. Reading provides excellent mental exercise as the brain creates simulations—mixing the events of the story with the reader’s own memories and experiences—which strengthens neural pathways, improving brain health.
- Book reading allows you to experience more than you ever could in real life. Author William Styron states, “A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.”
I sometimes feel a little guilty for the time I spend reading fiction, so I was happy to learn that fiction reading has its own unique benefits . . .
- Reading fiction increases compassion. Reading fiction improves “theory of mind,” which, simply stated, is the ability to understand that other people have beliefs, desires, and intentions that are different from one's own. (Watching television actually decreases theory of mind!) Reading fiction allows the reader to step into someone else’s shoes, which leads to the development of compassion and empathy.
- Reading fiction allows you to experience being heroic. The same regions of the brain are activated when you are living an experience as when you are reading about it. So when you’re experiencing heroism through the eyes of the protagonist in the book you’re reading, you essentially are the hero. Most of us would like to feel better about ourselves . . . this can be a good way to begin. Once you feel heroic, you’ll be more likely to go out into the world and actually be heroic. (We need more heroes!)
If it’s been a while since you’ve picked up a book, I hope these benefits will have you browsing the shelves at your local library in the very near future.
Photo via Pixabay