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5 Ways Books Improve Our Lives and Make Us Better People

5 Ways Books Improve Our Lives and Make Us Better People

For many people reading is an escape, a wonderful source of knowledge, and not just a leisure activity but a way of life. But did you know that books can also make us happier, healthier and even help us be better people? Here are 5 ways in which books enrich us.

1. Libraries Make us as Happy as Getting a Pay Rise

A new study by the UK’s Department for Culture Media and Sport shows that people can be just as happy going to the library as getting a £1,359 ($2,282) pay rise. The study, which examined the way in which our cultural engagement can affect overall wellbeing, found that frequent trips to the library gave us a similar feeling of wellbeing to things like the prospect of a pay rise, dancing, swimming and going to theater shows.

It’s unclear whether happy people go to the library or whether the library actually makes people happy. Either way though, it seems the library is where the happy people are at. Given that the UK, like the U.S., has seen many of its libraries closed over the past few years, perhaps this research should prompt a rethink about the worth of our libraries.

2. Books Make us More Empathetic

Psychologists David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano, of the New School for Social Research in New York, have authored research which shows a relationship between reading so-called literary fiction (a controversial term but one that usually denotes works outside of genre fiction which are multi-layered and often considered “writerly”, for example “Enduring Love” by Ian McEwan,) and a greater awareness of other people’s emotions as well as a greater ability to empathize.

This isn’t the first research to say that reading fiction can help us better understand each other, either.

Raymond Mar of York University in Canada has authored several studies (here and here) that appear to show people tend to be able to see the world from other people’s perspectives better when they read fiction. Mar has also found that children who are exposed to more fiction are more likely to have a stronger ability to read other people’s intentions than their less literary peers.

3. Books Change Our Brains for the Better

Emory University’s Gregory Berns has found that reading a novel can produce traceable differences in brain connectivity when participants were made to read while in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners. This heightened connectivity happened in two areas of the brain. One region that was activated was the language center of the brain, and not too surprisingly, this implies that reading gives us a better understanding of language.

The second area to be changed was an area called the central sulcus. This region is on the boundary of the motor and sensory centers. Essentially the researchers believe that when a narrator in a compelling book tells us of the actions they are undertaking, our brains actually light up (so to speak) as if we were undertaking those actions ourselves. For example, reading about someone running made our brain work as if we were running.

This, at least in part, perhaps explains the profound ways in which books appear to be able to elevate our mood and can help people battle depression.

4. Books Can Help Children Understand Bereavement, Sexuality and Relationships, and More

While no concrete evidence exists that books can help soothe children coping with bereavement, there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence to suggest that books offer an ideal “safe space” in which to raise issues about dying and bereavement and help children understand these concepts with clarity and sensitivity. Books can also provide a means by which to start an age appropriate conversation about topics like sexuality and gender identity to help give children a nonjudgemental framework in which they feel empowered to ask questions and talk freely.

5. Reading Can Help Fight Off Older Age Decline

We already know that ensuring we have ample mental stimulation as we get older is key to staving off memory loss and mental impairment. Research from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago has found that, among other activities, reading and writing from a young age can significantly help cut the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s by as much as 15 percent (beyond what is explained by plaques and tangles in the brain) while reading in older age itself can cut down mental decline by as much as 32 percent.

If this has convinced you to crack open a book, why not check out Care2′s tips on finding great books for free.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock.

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120 comments

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1:12PM PDT on Aug 4, 2014

When going to the link to the 1st 'here' in: "Raymond Mar of York University in Canada has authored several studies (here and her.)" This is what I found:
"While frequent readers are often stereotyped as socially awkward, this may only be true of non-fiction readers and not readers of fiction. Comprehending characters in a narrative fiction appears to parallel the comprehension of peers in the actual world, while the comprehension of expository non-fiction shares no such parallels." So 'make believe' out of someone's mind will help comprehend the actual world while fiction-something that actually happened-won't...doesn't make sense to me.

12:43PM PDT on Aug 4, 2014

"A new study by the UK’s Department for Culture Media and Sport shows that people can be just as happy going to the library as getting a £1,359 ($2,282) pay rise."
Where did they come up with that. I know there is a link but I'm not up to that now.
I'm very happy going to the library without the necessity to compare it to something else. I go to borrow books and use to the computer.

10:08AM PDT on May 13, 2014

I don t like reading, sorry, have no patience for it

5:41PM PDT on May 1, 2014

I love to hang out at the library. It's a warm, calming place.

2:47PM PDT on May 1, 2014

Yeah

3:12AM PDT on May 1, 2014

You have actually been in a library in the UK? I Have. People seem no happier than those on the street.

"Essentially the researchers believe that when a narrator in a compelling book tells us of the actions they are undertaking, our brains actually light up (so to speak) as if we were undertaking those actions ourselves." Sounds like a reason to "ban" some book by age groups.

The statement "While no concrete evidence exists that books can...." kind of sums up the article.

And I have a degree in literature and am a publish poet. Maybe it's time Care2 found some writers that understand how to write compelling articles?

10:05PM PDT on Apr 30, 2014

So that's exactly how books broaden the mind!

8:40PM PDT on Apr 30, 2014

zks

11:46AM PDT on Apr 30, 2014

Love books

4:45AM PDT on Apr 30, 2014

Yay for books and libraries!

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