Seven Benefits of Reading Fiction
By Jill Brennan
Is your life so busy you’re wondering how you are going to find time to read more, especially when it’s just for “pleasure”? Having trouble justifying it, even to yourself? Leisure activities like reading are often the things that slide when life goes into overdrive. And that’s sad because it’s an activity that can make life richer and more enjoyable.
A lot has been written about the benefits of reading for and to children. However, there is very little about the benefits to adults in engaging in regular reading. Let me assure you that the benefits for adults do exist and are many and varied.
Fiction provides an escape from the day-to-day. Fiction is a great way to take a quick immediate break, to be instantly transported into another world. Today you could be in America, in the deep south with Alice Walker's The Colour Purple, tomorrow in the Australian bush with Tim Winton’s Dirt Music, next week in downtown London with Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones Diary and next month in Ireland with Jim O’Neill’s At Swim, Two Boys. There is no limit to the places fiction can take you.
Fiction provides relaxation. There is something about stopping to focus on words arranged for our reading pleasure that is instantly relaxing. Maybe it’s staying still, something that doesn’t seem to happen often enough. Maybe it’s knowing that we are stepping into a secret world that we have to relax enough to enter. Then there are the words themselves. The beauty and rhythm of language has an amazing ability to calm and relax us.
Fiction provides stress relief. Taking your mind off your own problems, even for a few minutes, can have a therapeutic effect and be a timely circuit breaker. This is so effective that the National Health System in the United Kingdom has introduced a “Reading and You Scheme.” The scheme encourages mental health patients to read more as part of their therapy for reducing stress and overcoming anxiety, depression and social isolation.
Reading stimulates the right side of your brain. Reading opens your mind to new possibilities. It stretches your imagination in new and wonderful directions and takes your mind on a wonderful journey through others’ lives. What would you do if you were Jo Becker in While I Was Gone by Sue Miller? Would you tell your husband and three daughters about a grisly crime that happened when you were a university student? Or would you try to pretend it never happened?
Fiction is entertaining. Fiction is capable of provoking many and varied emotional responses – it can make you laugh out loud, it can make tears spill onto the page, it can be edge-of-the seat terrifying, it can make you blush with embarrassment, it can challenge your core beliefs. There is a world of emotion in every story, and you as the reader get to be part of it.
Enjoyable reading is a deeply satisfying pursuit. The expression “curling up with a book” evokes a warm and cozy image and feels luxurious if you don’t get to do it often.
Rejuvenating reading is an easy and quick way to nourish your soul, because it is for the most part a solitary pursuit. And being alone, or at least alone in your thoughts, on a regular basis is crucial to maintaining a sense of self. As I’m sure you know, it’s easier to give to others when you feel fulfilled and your needs are met. Even just a few minutes of reading can keep you going throughout the day. Of course, you know you’ve read something special when you find your thoughts continually re-visiting it.
Reading is like exercising – mental and physical benefits flow from a regular routine. So don’t feel guilty about taking time out to read. It’s good for you!
© Jill Brennan
Jill Brennan owns and operates espresso FICTION, where you can find intriguing short stories to enjoy during a break in your day. Stories are delivered weekly via e-mail, so you can print them out and enjoy them when and where you please. Think of it as fast food for your mind.