How Reading Can Make You Happier

Turn the page on a new outlook on life.

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Posted in , Aug 22, 2019

Summer reading

“Reading fiction makes me lose all sense of self,” wrote Ceridwen Dovey in a beautiful 2015 essay in The New Yorker, “but at the same time makes me feel most uniquely myself.”

Dovey’s reflections on reading came from an experience she had with “bibliotherapy,” the practice of reading with a therapeutic goal in mind. She quotes a 1916 article from the same magazine that explained the practice this way: “Bibliotherapy is…a new science. A book may be a stimulant or a sedative or an irritant or a soporific. The point is that it must do something to you, and you ought to know what it is. A book may be of the nature of a soothing syrup or it may be of the nature of a mustard plaster.”

No wonder the ancient Greeks described the library at Thebes as a “healing place for the soul.”

In an age of socially interactive screen time, reading a book, be it fiction, memoir, nonfiction or graphic novel, can become a uniquely gratifying activity. Reading takes us out of our lives and into another world, real or imagined. It takes us inside other minds, shows us new views and perspectives. And it can bring us great joy.

A 2016 survey conducted by researchers at the University of Liverpool’s Centre for Research into Reading, Literature and Society (CRILS) explored how those who read for pleasure fare in stress management, confidence, decision-making and other emotional factors.

More than a third of those surveyed called reading “the ultimate stress remedy,” and more than a quarter said reading had inspired them to make a positive change in their lives. Thirty-five percent said reading books is most likely to bring them comfort when they are feeling down.

“The positive effects that reading can have on society are widely documented and what has been made abundantly clear by this research is that books can help us to enjoy the little things in life, and be happier in ourselves; a useful and timely reminder for all of us to draw on the many benefits that only reading can deliver,” said Josie Billington, the Centre’s deputy director.

The range of benefits reading can bring, from profound therapeutic exploration to regular stress management, make it an essential practice those on a positive path through life.

And more good news—as “summer reading” season draws toward its conclusion, the months of cozy, cool evenings beckon. What better way to enjoy them than curled up with a good book?

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