Deep down it’s as if we know reading is good for us, yet the majority of us don’t read books very often. In fact, about a quarter of American adults said they haven’t touched a book in the last year. Reading is one of the absolute best techniques to learn, hands down. When you make reading a habit, you constantly expose yourself to new information. This isn’t always a good thing, the constant influx of media thrown our away can be overwhelming and harm our concentration. Then again, this is where reading becomes crucial; when you read books you not only accumulate knowledge and information but also improve your attention span. The benefits of picking up a bo\ok don’t stop here.
We live in a stressful world, good thing we have books! Those who have become lost within the pages of a fascinating narrative will understand how books can provide powerful stress relief. Researchers at the University of Sussex in England found that reading was the most effective stress reduction technique. Stress was measured by heart rate as well as muscle tension. After reading for just six minutes, on average the participant’s stress levels dropped by 68 percent. I could have just titled this article “How to cut your stress in half with only 5 minutes of your precious time”, but that wouldn’t give the habit of reading enough credit.
Reading offers benefits beyond childhood and well into adulthood. In a study of nearly 300 people, those who engaged in mentally stimulating activities such as reading had slower memory decline than those who didn’t.³ Cognitive decline can creep in as early as the late twenties for some adults. As we age, our brains shrink in volume and our cortex begins thinning. In the study, engaging in a mentally enriching activity such as reading was associated with a 32 percent lower rate of mental decline versus those who didn’t. This is a good indication of how reading can actually preserve the structure of the brain and serve as a potent anti-aging mechanism. In addition, other research identifies a strong association between the habit of reading and being less likely to have Alzheimer’s.
I like to think of empathy as a skill in understanding our world and the people around you. Imagine a time where you felt alone or grossly misunderstood, perhaps by a friend or spouse. You were probably in need of empathy, or being heard and understood. This is a basic human need and functions as our emotional support system. It is critical to the interconnectivity of our species. What’s better? Empathy can be learned and practiced.
Authors Maia Szalavitz and Bruce D. Perry, MD, Ph.D. describe empathy: “The essence of empathy is the ability to stand in another’s shoes, to feel what it’s like there. Your primary feelings are more related to the other person’s situation than your own.”
One study showed that by reading fiction we not only decrease our stress levels but we increase our empathy towards fellow humans. The study authors stated, “In two experimental studies, we were able to show that self-reported empathic skills significantly changed over the course of one week for readers of a fictional story by fiction authors Arthur Conan Doyle or José Saramago.” These feelings of empathy go along way and are worth cultivating for a variety of reasons. Being able to see the world as others see it without judgment and communicating your understanding of those person’s feelings can make all the difference to them.
It’s important to note a distinction here. This is a rather subtle and hard difference for some to grasp but empathy is not the same as sympathy. Most people will feel as if they’re being empathetic to someone because they feel sorry for them, but this is sympathy. With empathy, we can build a bridge of understanding by listening without judgment, putting ourselves in their shoes, and relating to them without giving biased or unwarranted advice.
For a more visual understanding of the differences between empathy and sympathy check out LifeHack’s 7 Intricate Differences Between Empathy And Sympathy
As L. Frank Baum put it “No thief, however skillful, can rob one of knowledge, and that is why knowledge is the best and safest treasure to acquire.” Learning new things is one of the best investments we can make. Reading books is one of the most profound techniques to learn new things. Let’s set aside the fact that we can learn just about any skill, hobby, or profession by reading about it and focus on the reading itself. Just the act of reading allows us to learn new words and thereby increase our vocabulary. Children are exposed to greater than 50 percent more words while reading than watching prime time T.V. This is true even when compared to the child listening to a conversation between college graduates according to a paper published by the University of California, Berkeley. Sure, obviously reading more will help you learn new words and improve your vocabulary, but those who read also score higher on general intelligence tests too! I don’t know about you, but reading seems like the smart thing to do. Nonetheless, cultivating a reading habit can be challenging. I’ve failed many times, so I thought I’d share some of the tips I’ve picked up along the way.
4. Robert S. Wilson, Patricia A. Boyle, Lei Yu, Lisa L. Barnes, Julie A.Schneider, David A. Bennett Neurology Jul 2013, 81 (4) 314-321; DOI:10.1212/WNL.0b013e31829c5e8a