When we read fiction in particular, we are tasked with placing ourselves in the story through a variety of means. We empathize and sympathize with made-up characters. We hear, taste, touch, smell, and feel what those characters do. And we are using our imaginations to do this.
As we read and immerse ourselves in the world the writer has imagined for us, we are exercising our brains.
According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, “Research suggests that reading literary fiction is an effective way to enhance the brain’s ability to keep an open mind while processing information, a necessary skill for effective decision-making.”
A lot of people may think reading for knowledge such as non-fiction is the only way to get anything out of reading, but “…reading fiction may provide far more important benefits than nonfiction. For example, reading fiction predicts increased social acuity and a sharper ability to comprehend other people’s motivations.”
Believe it or not, it’s been found that while reading nonfiction can be valuable for collecting knowledge and often extremely interesting, it doesn’t do much in the way of developing one’s EQ (emotional intelligence, or emotional quotient).
Why would this be the case?
Well, according to an article from INC (Nine Ways Reading Fiction Will Make You Happier and More Successful), “Fiction is a uniquely powerful way to understand others, tap into creativity and exercise your brain.”
Here are a few specific ways reading fiction is good for us:
Empathy. When we read about a situation or a feeling a character is experiencing, it’s almost as if we’re feeling it ourselves. Our heart breaks for them, we feel butterflies when they’re excited, or our pulse races when our character walks into that old, dark, empty house and hears a sound at the top of the stairs.
Stress Relief. When we dive into a story, we step out of real life. At least for a while. When we disengage in this way, we reboot ourselves.
Even if you’re reading a story that holds a lot of tension or stress, you’re still shadowing a character instead of living your real life. An escape no matter the genre of the story.
Memory. It’s been discovered that readers have less mental decline in later life (compared to non-readers). Who couldn’t use that? Also according to the above article from INC, “In addition to slower memory decline, those who read more have been found to show fewer characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a 2001 study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”
That IS good news!
Larger vocabulary. I’m sure everyone knows that reading is an excellent and proven source for increasing our vocabulary. But fiction in particular tends to use a greater variety of words than non-fiction does.
The English language is rich and descriptive, with more words than we can possibly master. But reading helps us to get ahold of many of these vocabulary words and actually use them in our everyday speech, or in our own writing. Maybe not so much if you read a lot of period pieces or classic literature, but I would argue that even these old phrases or lesser-used words will still expand your mind. You may not use the same words of those older novels, but you’ll search your mind for updated words that match those meanings. Maybe? Sometimes? You decide.
The takeaway is that reading fiction is so much more than simple entertainment. Don’t sell it short.
Thanks for visiting my blog and happy reading! Whatever reading you choose! In the end, all reading is good mental exercise.
“My goal is not to be better than anyone else, but to be better than I used to be”. —Wayne Dyer
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly. This book received one of my rare five-star reviews! And an actual written review.