Since my mental health has improved, I’m finding myself reading a lot less books from my (virtual) TBR pile as I now only read in bed on a night and not most afternoons as I did previously. Also, I’m so busy during the day, I can only manage a couple of chapters before I find myself drifting off to sleep. I would still like to make sure I read a couple of fiction books each month, plus at least 2 chapters each week from my current non-fiction book. In order to make sure I keep up with reading novels, I decided to do a little research into the benefits of regular reading of fiction. I was quite surprised by some of what I learnt and thought my blog readers might like to see too. So, this is the subject of my Monday Matters blog post for this week – 10 ways reading fiction can be helpful as well as pleasurable.
1. Improves your capacity for empathy
If you’re anything like me, when reading some genre of fiction, you’ll likely find yourself imagining what it would be like to be one or more of the characters in the book. Studies has shown, that doing this helps to activate the parts of the brain responsible for showing understanding towards others and seeing things from an alternative perspective. So, by devouring lots of books on a variety of themes, you are strengthening your ability to be empathetic towards people in your life.
2. Widens your vocabulary
The more you read, the wider your vocabulary will get, especially if part of your TBR pile includes more literary works. I love learning new words when reading and, because I mainly use my kindle, I can check out the meaning of those I’m not sure of by selecting the text and opening the dictionary. In fact, on a few occasions, when I’ve been super tired and reading a paperback, I’ve found myself tapping on a word to discover what it means! (please tell me I’m not the only one who has done this ha ha!).
3. Reduces stress
Becoming immersed in a book has been shown to be extremely good at making us feel less stressed. Reading can lower blood pressure, slow our heart rate and help us release tension in our muscles. So basically, by dedicating some time each day for a quiet reading session, we can calm the often incessant mental chatter, soothing our minds and bodies.
4. Mental stimulation which leads to less mental decline than non-readers
Just like doing Sudoku, crosswords and word searches, reading of any kind provides excellent mental stimulation. By keeping our brains active, we’re helping to delay the onset of mental decline associated with conditions such as dementia.
In fact, scientific studies have shown that reading novels strengthens brain function in all kinds of ways, both during the actual act of reading and for days after. One study found that when the tension in a story mounts, brain activity increases too!
5. Better sleep
Reading a couple of chapters before turning out the light has been shown to help us have a better night’s sleep. Studies found that just ten minutes can help us wind down really effectively. Also, if you make it a regular part of your bedtime routine, your brain will associate reading with quite time prior to slumber.
6. Increases happiness
Regularly burying your head in a good book has been shown to have the potential to make us happier by banishing depressive thoughts and feelings and generally improving our mood. Reading can also boost self esteem which is likely to have a positive effect on our confidence levels and our beliefs about ourselves and our abilities.
7. Better analytical skills
If you like reading crime fiction, psychological dramas with lots of twists and other stories with complex plots like I do, you’ll be pleased to know that not only will you be enjoying a cracking read, you’ll also be improving your analytical skills too. Analytical skills include developing your ability to visualize, conceptualize, and solve both simple and complex problems using all information available – in essence, great life skills which can be applied to every day situations and come in really useful at work or school too.
In a nutshell, inclusivity is the quality of including many different types of people and treating them all fairly and equally. Reading can help you do this by introducing you to characters from all walks of life so you can learn about cultural differences and issues which may present themselves in certain communities or through particular life experiences, making you more open minded.
The fact that reading broadens our minds and experiences (sometimes transporting us to completely different worlds) has also been shown to help us to be more creative. By fully engaging in the books we choose, our imagination flows freely and our creative juices are stimulated.
10. Improved emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence which can be defined as ‘the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically’ (Oxford dictionaries) has been shown to be greatly improved, especially if you read widely. According to research and a number of theories, reading fiction provides a safe place to explore different emotions and prepare us for the stresses and strains of real life. Also, by reading about a range of different cultures and life situations, we increase our capacity for empathy and understanding towards others.
According to a number of statistics, reading fiction for pleasure is very much on the decline, both in adults and children. This is a shame because, as you can see, there are so many benefits to regularly picking up a book and becoming engrossed in a story. I hope that today’s post has encouraged you to assess how much time you devote to reading and has also perhaps persuaded you to dedicate a few minutes each day to this great mindful activity. Let me know in the comments what your favourite reading genre is and what you feel are the personal benefits for you.
Thanks for reading!