The Amazing Benefits of Reading Fiction. How my Life Changed One Book at a Time.
The impacts fiction has on my life and how it can improve yours.
The teenage years can feel like being eaten up by resentment and then spit up by confusion. They are an emotional assault for all concerned. Between rapid physical development and deep emotional changes, things get hard.
For me, life was a rollercoaster of difficult emotions and I couldn’t find their source. Life was hard and once I started having conflicts with my friends it got worse. Secrets, videos published on Facebook and parents were all involved.
Everywhere I looked there was a problem I didn’t want to face.
Luckily, I discovered a means of escape. A means that, after many years, I still reach towards. A source of enchantment, attraction, and happiness. After this encounter, I was never the same again.
That escape is reading fiction.
The Escape Route
While I was a kid we had a rule at home: The only activity we could do before bed was reading. At the time, this rule was a hindrance. I would have preferred to be able to watch television so that I could be part of the conversations about shows at school the next day. Nowadays, at twenty-seven years old, I thank my parents for that rule.
Having a reading habit changed my life.
Nowadays, I don’t face bullies, exams, or social stress; I have the adult equivalents: meetings, deadlines, and an inbox full of work-related emails. Fiction books act as the same source of happiness they did years ago.
Reading puts our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. It’s been proven that regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers.
Reading before bed was one of the best habits I’ve developed. I’m happier thanks to it.
Doorway To Possibilities
There are many people who, like me, are aware of the benefits fiction has in their lives. Productivity expert Tiago Forte explains how science fiction wasn’t just entertainment for him but it also powerfully shaped his imagination, helping him “envision possible futures in vivid detail and see how trends in society and culture might play out”.
That imagination, he states, opened up doorways for him in real life. He started reading more widely with a more open mind, “was more willing to try new things, travel to new places, and consider options that weren’t typical for someone with my background”.
Forte’s experience is a perfect example of the process of learning through the consumption of fiction. Reading fiction can provide many of the same self-improvement benefits that reading non-fiction has. It’s an amazing way to broaden your worldview while laying on your couch.
Skills Hidden In Pages
“I don’t read fiction because I want to learn while I read”. That is something people have told me multiple times. I’m forced to tell them they are wrong!
As it turns out, reading fiction books is not just an excellent source of escapism, but also a chance to imagine how somebody else -fictional or not- sees the world. Yes, reading is an individual experience, but it makes people think deeper about characters. “Because we have to fill in the gaps as we go along, it gives us a chance to develop empathetic skills as we try to understand what a character is going through” states a Kensington University study from 2017.
I vividly remember the moment I finished reading Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. A story about four friends from college and their life as they grow older. After 720 pages I felt I knew them, I wished them the best, I suffered with them, and I cried with them (It wasn’t a very uplifting book). Once I finished the book I even missed the characters. They had become part of my routine.
I believe reading that book made me kinder. It is impossible to replace the activity of reading with one with similar effects.
There’s an experiment called “Mind in the Eyes” where people are given a series of photographs of pairs of eyes. From the eyes and surrounding skin alone, their task is to identify which emotion a person is feeling. The expressions are subtle and at first glance might appear neutral. Those deemed to have read more fiction than nonfiction scored higher on this test — as well as on a scale measuring interpersonal sensitivity.
The explanation? Imagining stories helps activate the regions of your brain responsible for better understanding others and seeing the world from a new perspective. That’s because when we read about a situation or feeling, it’s very nearly as if we’re feeling it ourselves.
Because fictional stories can serve as a ‘reality simulator’ they give us a chance to rehearse for interactions with others in the world, without doing any lasting damage. This can translate into improved relationships.
Thank you books!
I have been in the position where someone in my life going through a specific event has reminded me of a fictional character. Even though it’s crazy and it feels like two worlds colliding, it can actually be useful to have the fictional experience in your mind. Not only for developing empathy but because you may have good advice to give. Take advantage of the fact that you are living many lives through your books.
As I explained earlier, I always read before bed. It’s a habit I cherish because it provides the kind of disengagement that serves as the perfect environment for helping you sleep.
Investor, advisor, and author Tim Ferris said: “Do not read non-fiction prior to bed, which encourages projection into the future and preoccupation. Read fiction that engages the imagination and demands present-state attention”.
Being a regular fiction reader shaped my life in a way that I am proud of. The books I’ve read are part of my identity. It’s hard for me to imagine how different my life would have been if I never had this long-lasting relationship with fiction books. I would probably have a narrower vision of the word, I would see fewer possibilities around me and I would face boredom regularly.
“Fiction and poetry are doses, medicines,” the author Jeannette Winterson has written. “What they heal is the rupture reality makes on the imagination”.
How To Start Reading Fiction
I hope you now want to grab a fiction book. If you haven’t read fiction in a while and you want to start, here is some advice:
Look for page-turners: Find a book with short chapters and tons of cliffhangers to keep your interest. Science Fiction maybe?
Read Young Adult: YA fiction is often silly AND serious. It tends to be shorter than adult fiction, and easier to read.
Read the book version of a movie or tv show: You already know you like the story, the characters, and the setting if you like the filmed adaptation of a book.
If the action of reading is what is difficult for you:
Listen to audiobooks: If you struggle with focusing while reading or can’t find the time for it, listen to audiobooks instead. It can be a great place to start a reading habit.
Try an ebook: If carrying a physical book is uncomfortable, try an e-book. They are available on a variety of different apps.
Join a community: Nowadays you don’t have to meet people in real life to be a part of a community. Join Goodreads and start following people with similar interests as you. You will get motivated and have tons of good recommendations.