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Five Ways Reading Improves Your Life

Five Ways Reading Improves Your Life

It happens at every party; you’re balancing a drink and a plate of food, trying to make polite small-talk with someone you’ve never seen and might never see again, and in a desperate attempt to clutch at a conversation thread, you ask, “Read any good books lately?”

As cliché as this conversation starter has become, it can still lend tremendous insight into people’s tastes and personalities. Someone who can wax rhapsodic about the poetry of William Wordsworth, for instance, we might imagine to be a nature-lover. A reader of every novel Nicholas Sparks has ever written is probably a die-hard romantic. Someone who has read all of Dr Wayne Dyer’s books might be doing her best to achieve a healthy, balanced, and fulfilling life.

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Yet beyond filling the void in conversation gaps, reading can have significant benefits on our health and well-being, improving our ability to connect with others, and broadening our horizons. Here are five ways that reading can benefit your life.

1. Reading can improve brain function

Believe it or not, Psychology Today reports that approximately 42% of college graduates will never read a book again after graduating, but regular reading can have a positive impact on brain function. A research study conducted at Emory University that examined the correlation between brain function and reading a novel found that FMRI scans of study participants who read Robert Harris’s Pompeii showed “heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex, an area of the brain associated with receptivity for language.”

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The Daily Mail also reports that reading can help to slow memory decline. The brain, like the rest of the body, requires exercise to remain agile and alert, and reading can help to increase focus and concentration.

2. Reading can improve empathy

According to the same article in Psychology Today, those who read regularly report an increased ability to step into someone else’s shoes and experience the world through alternative points of view. Books are portals into other worlds and other times, both real and fictional. We can’t, for instance, take a trip in a time machine back to Victorian London, but we can read Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist and experience a realistic account of orphan life during that period as only Dickens can tell it.

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3. Reading improves your vocabulary

One of the best ways to broaden your vocabulary and communicate more effectively, whether orally or in writing, is to read. According to an article on Exforzia, those who read regularly “have a large repository of information in their brains, and they can reach into that repository to pull out words whenever they need them.” Reading challenges us to improve our language skills not only because we expand our vocabulary when we look up unfamiliar words, but also because we learn to infer meaning from context.

Imagine, for instance, that you’re reading a passage in a story in which a girl takes a walk on the seashore and discovers an abundance of shells. Perhaps you’ve never before encountered the word abundance, but when the story tells you that she hasn’t enough room in her basket to fit all of her findings, you can infer that abundance likely refers to a large quantity.

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4. Reading can improve your mood

To examine the link between reading and overall well-being, Penguin conducted a study in which they asked twenty “lapsed readers” to read for twenty minutes a day over a period of ten days, keeping a diary to track their moods. One participant reported that “after reading for half an hour on my lunchbreak I felt happy, sharp, and cheerful, and the feeling lasted all afternoon.”

Part of this feeling, Baroness Gale Rebuck observes in her discussion of the study, stems from the fact that reading “helps us feel less isolated. One in four readers say that a book has helped them realize that other people have shared their life experiences.” Whether it’s a novel about a troubled marriage or a self-help book about how to overcome the pain of a broken heart, books remind us that we’re not journeying through this life alone and that we can learn and grow from sharing our stories with one another.

5. Reading fosters friendships

Many of us have probably, at one time or another, participated in a book club; coming together to read and share our thoughts about what we read often allows us to open up and share our own stories. Imagine coming together with a group of other readers to discuss a book like Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, in which she details the first year of her life after suddenly losing her husband. As you delve into her emotions and allow her to share her story with you, that story might evoke memories of a grief of your own—a grief that Didion’s story has gently excavated because it’s created a safe space in which you can unburden yourself. The communal act of reading can create the connective tissue that forges friendships and binds them together through the ritual of sharing.

Featured photo credit: girl reading magazine in hotel bed via stokpic.com

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

Creating a vision for your life might seem like a frivolous, fantastical waste of time, but it’s not: creating a compelling vision of the life you want is actually one of the most effective strategies for achieving the life of your dreams. Perhaps the best way to look at the concept of a life vision is as a compass to help guide you to take the best actions and make the right choices that help propel you toward your best life.

your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have

    Why You Need a Vision

    Experts and life success stories support the idea that with a vision in mind, you are more likely to succeed far beyond what you could otherwise achieve without a clear vision. Think of crafting your life vision as mapping a path to your personal and professional dreams. Life satisfaction and personal happiness are within reach. The harsh reality is that if you don’t develop your own vision, you’ll allow other people and circumstances to direct the course of your life.

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    How to Create Your Life Vision

    Don’t expect a clear and well-defined vision overnight—envisioning your life and determining the course you will follow requires time, and reflection. You need to cultivate vision and perspective, and you also need to apply logic and planning for the practical application of your vision. Your best vision blossoms from your dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It will resonate with your values and ideals, and will generate energy and enthusiasm to help strengthen your commitment to explore the possibilities of your life.

    What Do You Want?

    The question sounds deceptively simple, but it’s often the most difficult to answer. Allowing yourself to explore your deepest desires can be very frightening. You may also not think you have the time to consider something as fanciful as what you want out of life, but it’s important to remind yourself that a life of fulfillment does not usually happen by chance, but by design.

    It’s helpful to ask some thought-provoking questions to help you discover the possibilities of what you want out of life. Consider every aspect of your life, personal and professional, tangible and intangible. Contemplate all the important areas, family and friends, career and success, health and quality of life, spiritual connection and personal growth, and don’t forget about fun and enjoyment.

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    Some tips to guide you:

    • Remember to ask why you want certain things
    • Think about what you want, not on what you don’t want.
    • Give yourself permission to dream.
    • Be creative. Consider ideas that you never thought possible.
    • Focus on your wishes, not what others expect of you.

    Some questions to start your exploration:

    • What really matters to you in life? Not what should matter, what does matter.
    • What would you like to have more of in your life?
    • Set aside money for a moment; what do you want in your career?
    • What are your secret passions and dreams?
    • What would bring more joy and happiness into your life?
    • What do you want your relationships to be like?
    • What qualities would you like to develop?
    • What are your values? What issues do you care about?
    • What are your talents? What’s special about you?
    • What would you most like to accomplish?
    • What would legacy would you like to leave behind?

    It may be helpful to write your thoughts down in a journal or creative vision board if you’re the creative type. Add your own questions, and ask others what they want out of life. Relax and make this exercise fun. You may want to set your answers aside for a while and come back to them later to see if any have changed or if you have anything to add.

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    What Would Your Best Life Look Like?

    Describe your ideal life in detail. Allow yourself to dream and imagine, and create a vivid picture. If you can’t visualize a picture, focus on how your best life would feel. If you find it difficult to envision your life 20 or 30 years from now, start with five years—even a few years into the future will give you a place to start. What you see may surprise you. Set aside preconceived notions. This is your chance to dream and fantasize.

    A few prompts to get you started:

    • What will you have accomplished already?
    • How will you feel about yourself?
    • What kind of people are in your life? How do you feel about them?
    • What does your ideal day look like?
    • Where are you? Where do you live? Think specifics, what city, state, or country, type of community, house or an apartment, style and atmosphere.
    • What would you be doing?
    • Are you with another person, a group of people, or are you by yourself?
    • How are you dressed?
    • What’s your state of mind? Happy or sad? Contented or frustrated?
    • What does your physical body look like? How do you feel about that?
    • Does your best life make you smile and make your heart sing? If it doesn’t, dig deeper, dream bigger.

    It’s important to focus on the result, or at least a way-point in your life. Don’t think about the process for getting there yet—that’s the next stepGive yourself permission to revisit this vision every day, even if only for a few minutes. Keep your vision alive and in the front of your mind.

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    Plan Backwards

    It may sound counter-intuitive to plan backwards rather than forwards, but when you’re planning your life from the end result, it’s often more useful to consider the last step and work your way back to the first. This is actually a valuable and practical strategy for making your vision a reality.

    • What’s the last thing that would’ve had to happen to achieve your best life?
    • What’s the most important choice you would’ve had to make?
    • What would you have needed to learn along the way?
    • What important actions would you have had to take?
    • What beliefs would you have needed to change?
    • What habits or behaviors would you have had to cultivate?
    • What type of support would you have had to enlist?
    • How long will it have taken you to realize your best life?
    • What steps or milestones would you have needed to reach along the way?

    Now it’s time to think about your first step, and the next step after that. Ponder the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. It may seem impossible, but it’s quite achievable if you take it step-by-step.

    It’s important to revisit this vision from time to time. Don’t be surprised if your answers to the questions, your technicolor vision, and the resulting plans change. That can actually be a very good thing; as you change in unforeseeable ways, the best life you envision will change as well. For now, it’s important to use the process, create your vision, and take the first step towards making that vision a reality.

    Featured photo credit: Matt Noble via unsplash.com

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