As winter approaches, you may get the itch to retreat to the couch and dive into a "Stranger Things" binge session. Or, you may be tempted instead to grab an afghan and a cup of tea and head to a cozy corner with a good book. If both choices sound equally good to you, here are 12 good reasons to pick the book over the Netflix binge. What makes us keep turning to books when there are so many flashier forms of entertainment out there? In short, we read because it makes us happy. Here are 11 additional reasons why your love of reading can translate to a better life.
1. Reading Boosts Your Brain’s Ability to Perform
When you practice a sport or physical activity, you gain muscle memory that improves your performance. Mental and emotional practice makes perfect too. Reading a book activates the brain and reinforces neural connections as if your mind is actually getting a good workout. In fact, a 2014 study followed brain scans of 21 students while they rested and then after reading a novel. The scans revealed that days after completing the book, there was increased activity in the areas of language comprehension and muscle memory.
2. Reading Amps Up Your Vocabulary
As we read, we come across unfamiliar words more often than we realize, but through context clues we are able to figure them out and eventually add those words to our personal lexicon. (A “lexicon,” for example, is a dictionary or vocabulary limited to a specific topic or body of knowledge. You’re welcome.) Many words appear in print that never occur in everyday speech. You’d blanch at words like “invariably,” or “moreover” (or “blanch,” which means to become pale at the thought of something, for that matter) if they came up in conversation, but you’d read through them without question if they were to show up in a novel.
3. Reading Makes You More Empathetic
Connecting with characters — even fictional ones — can help you form better connections with real people. The Harry Potter novels have been translated into 68 languages and have sold more than 400 million copies worldwide. Their universal appeal speaks to young and old and across cultural borders. A group of researchers in Italy introduced the books to a sampling of primary school students to test their theory: “The novels of Harry Potter can be used as a tool for improving attitudes toward stigmatized groups.” Their research turned out just as they expected and hoped. Their findings showed that reading the Harry Potter books improved the children’s attitudes toward immigrants, homosexuals, refugees and other stigmatized groups. Reading about fictional characters in a magical world actually made the children more empathetic toward real people in real life.
4. Reading Can Get You Ahead at Work
“The more you read, the more you get exposed to different types of people, communication styles, interactions, relationships and conflicts, and you can use that experience in dealing with people in the workplace,” explains Kira Copperman, a workplace communication specialist and the author of “Send/Receive/Confirm: Optimizing Communication in the Modern Workplace.” In fact, Copperman explains, readers have a higher average emotional intelligence (EQ) — a key quality employers look for in hiring and promoting employees — compared to nonreaders. People with high EQs are generally seen as more friendly at work, leading to stronger relationships and potentially more job security too.
5. Readers Make Better First Impressions
Reading has yet another benefit in and out of the workplace: helping you make better first impressions. Another component of a high EQ is having better communication skills. Big readers are better natural communicators, have bigger vocabularies and use proper grammar more often, all major factors in presenting yourself in an intelligent, professional way. In an article titled “I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar” in the Harvard Business Review, iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens lays it on the line: “Good grammar is credibility … your words are all you have.”
6. Reading Helps You Escape
Waiting rooms, scary storms, a tense political climate — sometimes the best way to deal with a situation is to escape from it. Lorraine Berry, a writer and dedicated reader, waited out Hurricane Irma immersed in a 900-page novel set in medieval times. “While the hurricane raged outside our doors, banging at the windows, I continued reading,” she wrote in an article for the website Signature. “I focused on the idea that regardless of what was left behind, (I) would be OK.”
7. Reading Helps You Connect
“When you read something, it’s not just delight — you go, ‘Oh my god, that’s me! I’ve lived like that, I’ve felt like that, I’m not alone in the world…’” David Foster Wallace's off the cuff remark about reading on “The Charlie Rose Show” in 1996 resonates deeply with avid readers everywhere.
Whether you’re going through a traumatic breakup, a deep loss or your own personal revolution, chances are that someone, somewhere in history, from somewhere in the world, has gone through it too. Often the “perfect” book may be just what you need to light the way through dark times. "I’ll often recommend books that put a funny or extreme spin on everyday situations, such as Where’d You Go Bernadette, by Maria Semple," says Rebecca Lubin, Head of Branches at Albany Public Library. "Dysfunctional family books can often make you realize that whatever is going on in yours isn’t so terrible."
Read more: The Best Books on Self Confidence
8. Reading Makes You More Resilient
Avid readers tend to be more open-minded, more resilient and need less “closure,” it turns out. In one 2015 study, 100 participants were assigned to read either an essay or a short story. After the reading, researchers tested participants’ need for closure. “When compared to participants in the essay condition, participants in the short story condition experienced a significant decrease in self-reported need for cognitive closure. The effect was particularly strong for participants who were habitual readers (of either fiction or nonfiction),” the study abstract reported in Creativity Research Journal. Keeping an open mind is a key factor in being able to adapt to new situations and circumstances.
9. Reading Can Make You Nicer
Reading about positive emotions makes us feel more positive toward others as well. “It may be that in the process of appreciating others’ lives, we incorporate these experiences into our own personality, resulting in a new and reconfigured self,” explains Dr. Kristine Anthis, professor of psychology at Southern Connecticut State University. If you’re feeling a little Scrooge-ish, pick up a novel about people who are kind, like “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” or “Polyanna.” At the very least, it could help you be a little more empathetic to the grump in the cubicle next to you, and you can find a way to bring out her nice side with a good book recommendation.
10. Reading Fiction Keeps You Sharp as You Age
The use-it-or-lose-it advice many physicians give at our annual checkups applies to brain activity as much as it applies to physical exercise. Avid readers who continue to read as they get older tend to keep their wits about them as they age, according to a study published in the journal Neurology in 2013. Joining a book club, like the Livestrong Healthy Reads Book Club, can not only help you stay sharp, it can also open you up to new books, and connect you to a community of readers and thinkers.
11. Reading Helps You Make Sense of Your World
You’ve never met someone from another planet, had a two-sided conversation with a four-legged creature or been on the front lines during the French Revolution. And you probably haven’t had a chat with a world leader, visited every continent or traveled in a submarine to the depths of the ocean. But through books, your world can expand in infinite ways. Your reach becomes farther. Your imagination grows to new heights. You can learn to be more than you ever could have been without ever opening a book and diving into a work of pure fiction.
What Do YOU Think?
Do you prefer reading over watching TV? What books have changed your life? Which genres are your favorite? Let us know in the comments!