You’ve heard it said time and time again before: reading matters. No matter who you are, a love for reading books is a valuable life skill. Books can transport us to other times and places, let us walk in someone else’s shoes and show us entirely new worlds we never could have imagined. And of course, if fictional books create new worlds, then nonfiction books explain the world we live in.
No matter what genre or type of literature you love, you can always learn something new from a book. In fact, reading books can even make you a better person. Books are a valuable source of information, creativity and empathy. If you’re not a book lover now, you will be soon. Here’s how reading makes you a better person.
1. Reading improves cognitive intelligence.
You may know by now that reading makes you more intelligent. Not only does reading strengthen your vocabulary, but it can actually change certain parts of the brain and even activate other areas. One 2013 study conducted by Emory University found reading novels could rewire certain parts of the brain, producing biological changes which lasted for up to five days. This “rewiring” of the brain improves the reader’s cognitive intelligence. Although, the cognitive effects from reading are not permanent unless they are consistently refreshed through—you guessed it—more reading.
2. Reading strengthens your empathy.
Reading fiction can also play a critical role in strengthening your level of empathy for others and the world around you. Reading gives you an inside look into a character’s life, their experiences and emotions. This intimate access opens up your critical thinking capabilities and activates empathy sensors. One study published in 2013 by Science found reading literary fiction helps improve people’s “Theory of Mind” (ToM), or their ability to understand someone else’s different beliefs and feelings. This makes you more aware and sensitive to others’ struggles, their cultures and their customs, causing you to be more forgiving and nurturing than before.
3. Reading improves your happiness.
This might come as a surprise, but reading can also improve your happiness with yourself and life. Researcher Josie Billington at the University of Liverpool shared a study in 2015 when she surveyed 4,164 adults, and found interesting contrasts between people who read regularly and those who didn’t. Consistent readers reported feeling less stressed and less depressed, with higher self-esteem levels and a greater ability to cope with challenges. Compared to non-readers, they also showed higher results in close friendships and community connections, with a stronger awareness for social issues and cultural diversity. All of this resulted in a stark difference between the happiness levels for consistent readers and their non-reader counterparts.
4. Reading protects your memory.
Brain-boosting activities like reading can also protect your memory, both short- and long-term. A 2013 study conducted by Rush University Medical Center in Chicago discovered consistent readers tend to show fewer signs of memory loss as they age. In the study, researchers conducted memory and thinking tests on 294 people during the last six years of their lives. After participants’’ deaths, they performed autopsies to look for signs of dementia. Researchers then discovered that participants who were avid, lifelong readers, showed 32% lower rates for memory decline at the end of their lives. Turns out, you can add a significant benefit to your life just by picking up a book.
There’s no doubt about it: reading improves wellbeing and can make you a better person. If you haven’t picked up a book in awhile, now might be the perfect time to do so. Try to incorporate more reading throughout your life and see how you can grow and influence others through it.