While connectivity is one of the great blessings of our era, constant connectivity can be a curse. Statistics from the Pew Research Center show that more than 26 percent of American adults say they haven’t read even a part of a book within the past year. Another survey by The Reading Agency of 2,000 UK adults found that nearly half (48%) admit they are too busy to read.
And yet reading books remains one of the best ways to engage with the world, become a better person and understand life’s questions, big and small.
In a 2016 essay for the Wall Street Journal, Will Schwalbe, author of The End of Your Life Book Club, summed it up this way: “Books are uniquely suited to helping us change our relationship to the rhythms and habits of daily life in this world of endless connectivity. We can’t interrupt books; we can only interrupt ourselves while reading them. They speak to us, thoughtfully, one at a time. They demand our attention. And they demand that we briefly put aside our own beliefs and prejudices and listen to someone else’s.”
Schwalbe added, “Reading is the best way I know to learn how to examine your life. By comparing what you’ve done to what others have done, and your thoughts and theories and feelings to those of others, you learn about yourself and the world around you. Perhaps that is why reading is one of the few things you do alone that can make you feel less alone. It is a solitary activity that connects you to others.”
Five benefits reading brings to your mind – and your body
1. Reading can help you be more open-minded.
A study conducted at the University of Toronto, showed that participants who read fiction tested as more open-minded, compared with those who read fact-based essays. “Although nonfiction reading allows students to learn the subject matter, it may not always help them in thinking about it,” the authors write. “A physician may have an encyclopedic knowledge of his or her subject, but this may not prevent the physician from seizing and freezing on a diagnosis, when additional symptoms point to a different malady.”
2. Reading can reduce stress and help you relax.
Research conducted in 2009 at the University of Sussex showed that reading was the most effective way to overcome stress, scoring higher than pastimes such as listening to music, enjoying a cup of tea or coffee and even taking a walk. Measured by evaluating heart rate and muscle tension, it took study participants just six minutes to relax once they started turning pages.
3. Reading may help you sleep better.
Many sleep experts recommend establishing a regular de-stressing routine before bed to calm your mind and cue your body up for sleep – and reading can be a great option. Bright lights signal to the brain that it’s time to wake up, so reading a book under a dim reading lamp rather than on a screen is preferable. (If you use an e-reader however, try reading it with the backlight turned down, using a lamp for illumination.)
4. People who read books live longer.
Yale researchers studied 3,635 people older than 50 and found that those who read books for 30 minutes daily lived an average of 23 months longer than nonreaders or magazine readers. It would appear that reading books creates cognitive engagement which improves many things, including vocabulary, thinking skills, and concentration.
5. Losing yourself in a book can make you more empathetic.
A study in the journal PLOS ONE suggests that reading fiction might actually increase your empathy. Experiments designed by researchers in the Netherlands showed that people who were “emotionally transported” by a work of fiction experienced boosts in empathy. According to the authors, fiction presents a simulation of real-world problems, and therefore has real-life consequences for the reader. When you become immersed in a fictional story, you identify and become emotionally involved with the characters, causing you to sympathize with them. As a result, you’re practicing being empathic – while reading a fictional story.
Reading isn’t just a respite from the relentlessness of technology, says Schwalbe. “It isn’t just how I reset and recharge. It’s how I engage. And reading should spur further engagement… Reading is one of the world’s great joys.”