How Reading Might Make You Happier

Photo: Courtesy Tumblr/Women Who Read
"Regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers," according to a fascinating article in The New Yorker discussing the somewhat little-known practice of bibliotherapy, or reading for therapeutic effect. "Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm."

Those of us who have loved curling up with a good book for as long as we can remember (like a whopping percentage of millennials) may not be surprised to learn that reading is good for both our mental and physical health. But exactly why is this, and how we can best use it, is where the concept of bibliotherapy comes into play. And it can take many forms, from working one-on-one with a therapist who recommends specific readings based on your emotional goals to literature courses in prisons to reading groups tailor-made for elderly people suffering from dementia. Perhaps the most relatable form, however, is "affective" bibliotherapy, which advocates for the restorative power of reading fiction.

Bibliotherapists Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin told The New Yorker that the practice goes all the way back to ancient Greece, where it was "inscribed above the entrance to a library in Thebes that this was a ‘healing place for the soul.'"

Lest you think reading is for loners, for bookworms sitting by themselves in the corner of a darkened library, think again. "We have started to show how identification with fictional characters occurs, how literary art can improve social abilities," University of Toronto cognitive psychology professor Keith Oatley told The New Yorker. Studies have shown that "reading literary fiction (rather than popular fiction or literary nonfiction) improved participants’ results on tests that measured social perception and empathy, which are crucial to 'theory of mind': the ability to guess with accuracy what another human being might be thinking or feeling."

So, that settles it: Pick up a book this week! You'll feel better and you'll be nicer to your friends and family. Here's a list of 25+ best summer books to get you started.
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