Does Reading Make You Happier

What is the immediate image that comes to mind when someone says “Are you reading a book?” You see yourself lounging on the sofa or in bed, feet up, relaxed with book in hand. A few hours pass while you’re taken on an adventure to another world. Everything else stops, and reading becomes a form of meditation in itself. Time seems to stand still. Hours pass by as you simply relax, immersed in your reading. You like where you are, you feel calm, at peace, and happy.

Picturing this image is easy. Now ask yourself – when was the last time you did just that? For some, reading is a daily pastime. For others, it is a hobby that they never seem to find the time to enjoy.

There are so many reasons to read. For fun, adventure, pleasure, knowledge, to learn new skills or start new hobbies, for business, and education.

If you consider that reading is an experiential pursuit, then it’s time to make reading a new priority. Why? Because experiential items have been proven to increase your happiness over material possessions. An abstract published in The Journal of Consumer Psychology earlier this year summarises the results from three studies:

“Study 1 and Study 2 demonstrate that experiential products provide similar levels of well-being compared to life experiences, and more well-being than material items. Study 3 replicates this finding for purchases that turn out well. In addition, Study 3 shows experiential products, when compared to life experiences, lead to more feelings of competence but less feelings of relatedness, which explains why these two purchases result in similar levels of well-being”.

How Reading Makes You Happy

Reading takes you out of your daily routine, and away from chores and lists of what needs to get done. Rather than just taking 5 minutes time out, give yourself at least half an hour to get away from it all. Spend the whole weekend reading, and observe how much more relaxed and rested you begin to feel.
Reading takes you to another world – whether it be a place of adventure, romance, travel, culinary delights, or any other genre. The words stimulate your memory and imagination and take you elsewhere.
Your brain stretches as you go on your reading journey. You create images in your mind, or start thinking of new ideas and ways to apply the new knowledge to your life. As you learn about new topics, new memories and associations are stored in your brain
Reading is fun. You do not have to be reading serious or educational texts all the time. Every once in a while, choose books that are fun. Give yourself permission to play with your inner child, and reward yourself by simply being young at heart and reading for fun
Reading improves your literary and auditory skills. Your reading, vocabulary, and speaking skills will improve as a by-product of reading. Without even trying, your depth and breadth of certain subjects will increase. You will have more knowledge to engage in conversations and share what you are reading
Increasing your competencies in subjects such as art, literature, and history, you will boost your confidence and may find niches in which you would like to become an expert
Autobiographies, travel, and hobby books can inspire and change your life

Give yourself an inexpensive experiential gift – buy a book. The whole journey can be an adventure in itself. Visit your local bookstore and simply see which book jumps off the shelf at you. The smell, sight, and visual experience in the bookstore will already lift your sense of wellbeing. Take this exciting book home and allow your happy journey to begin.
If you can’t afford to regularly buy new books, then visit your local library where you can read and borrow books for free.

Make reading a new routine in your life and feel the difference. Take the time to observe your mood after and before reading, and see how this changes over time. Regular experiential gifts added to your life will improve your wellbeing. Stop doing, and start reading again.

Stress and the Flight-or-Fight Response

The body uses many instinctive mechanisms designed to keep us alive. One of the most impressive is the ability to quickly become supercharged in times of extreme danger. Our ancestors would have regularly dealt with life-threatening situations, like being attacked by a large animal, and would have benefited greatly from this survival mechanism.

When our brain detects danger, it floods the body with a hormone called cortisol. This generally prompts the body to respond in one of three ways: we attack (fight), we run away (flight) or we remain completely still (freeze). These days we don’t come across life-threatening situations all that often, but the brain isn’t good at differentiating between sensations linked to an extreme physical threat and sensations linked to an extreme emotional threat. When we experience stress, shame, fear, anger and other negative emotions, our brain can interpret this as extreme danger. 

Everyone knows that strong emotional reactions can pop up in any situation, including the learning setting. A student might feel intimidated and afraid if a task is too difficult, embarrassed if a mistake is made in front of the class or frustrated if a new concept is hard to understand. They might even become enraged if they put effort into a learning task and still can’t grasp it.

Any of these experiences can trigger a flood of cortisol throughout the body. While this mechanism enables fast, effective action when there’s no time to stop and think, it produces an utterly ineffective response when the exact opposite is needed. In this state, taking the time to stop and think clearly is very hard to do. Research shows that high levels of cortisol can impede our ability to learn.

When a student finds it difficult to read, they’re likely to experience emotional distress. This can produce a stress reaction before a class has even started, further hindering the capacity to learn, and a vicious cycle forms that stops some students from learning to read. They fall further behind their peers and catching up can seem an impossible task.

It’s crucial to structure learning experiences in a way that avoids triggering this unhelpful cortisol reaction. Given the inconsistencies and complexities of the English language, and given struggling readers might have low self-esteem around their reading ability, it’s no simple task to support students toward becoming fluent readers without activating a stressful response.

This is an excerpt from a short book written by the founders of Readable English, Ann Fitts and Chris Stephen, titled “Readable English: Why Learning To Read English Is So Hard And How To Make It Easier”. You can access the entire book from the Readable English website.