Reading for Health and Happiness: 6 Reasons to Read More

A bookshelf full of books
Reading is like breathing to me. I can't live without it and I certainly wouldn't want to go without it. Reading has the power to transform, transport, enlighten, and educate.  

The Washington Post came out with a little article last week about reading and how little of it we Americans partake. As if it was something we were trying to avoid. Why is this?

The article noted that 46% of most Americans don't read even a single book a year (This is either an actual book or an ebook like on a Kindle.) And that only 5% read one book a year. 

A year.

And if you've read two, then you're doing better than half of us. (This includes audiobooks which I wouldn't have included, but so many people do this while commuting.)

What in the world has happened to us?

I suppose the influx of these little gadgets in our hands (smartphones) has made a difference. We "read" a lot of social media posts (which isn't reading, it's entertainment) and bits and bobbles of 'blurbs" that count as news. But, overall, this isn't reading as in "reading a book."

Reading is a luxury. I'm aware of that. I read a minimum of an hour a day and on weekends, if I'm lucky, I try to read two or three hours a day. But, finding the time to read is an issue we all scramble to work with. And yet, time has been there all along.

We have an hour a day to play on our phones. Why not read instead? 

Actually, according to PC Magazine, we spend something like 4 hours and 25 minutes a day on our phones. That is astounding.

So time isn't the issue here. Priorities are. And obviously, most people don't think reading is important. This means a lot of people are expecting the world (media) to educate us and all topics we are interested in rather than us doing our own reading, research, and discussion.

Reading is also a skill. A honed skill that takes time to achieve. Quieting the brain, forcing ourselves to focus on a book, and ignoring everything else around us - a world clamoring for our attention 24/7- is a worthy but seemingly insurmountable task.

While there are scads of scientific data that supports how reading is good for us (studies say that both reading and audiobooks work similar parts of the brain - I don't think so, but what do I know), after being an avid reader for the last 40 years, here's why I value reading and why you may want to add reading to your daily activities.

To be educated - There is no better way to learn anything than by reading. I suppose Google has upped this challenge. We can search for anything and learn how to do it. But reading about it will give you a depth of education YouTube videos can't possibly give. To learn more about any subject, we must read more. Plain and simple.

To escape - Television is escapism, but did you know that part of our brain turns off when we watch TV? Our brain begins to rot. That's frightening. Reading does the opposite. We can still escape to our preferred places - from a cozy mystery to science fiction, an autobiography, or historical fiction - and keep our brains active and growing. This is a good way to minimize aging. Use it or lose it, folks.

To relax - Numerous studies have shown reading relaxes us and destresses us. Even if you're in the middle of edge-of-your-seat action in your book, you're still relaxed because as you read, you're lowering your heart rate, steadying your breathing, and relaxing your muscles. Reading helps us to decompress, and let our bodies sink into comfort while our brains whirl with activity. 

To understand how others view life - Want to learn how Benjamin Franklin lived? Interested in how C.S. Lewis transformed his life? What about Jane Austen... did ladies really behave this way back then? There is no better way to learn about others' lives than seeing what has been written. Read varied authors. Don't just stick to one genre. Read about people who have the opposite political view of yours. Learn, read, self-educate, and find commonalities among us.

To be a better writer - There is no better way to be a great writer than to be a great reader. The two go hand in hand. To write is to read. So if you're a writer, or want to be a writer, or love the idea of writing, reading is essential. As Stephen King said, "If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot." I strive to live up to this twin goal.

To live a slow life - Reading is the ultimate slow-living activity. Not just colloquially but literally. To read, you have to slow down, grab the drink, find the perfect spot to sit or recline, open the book (put the glasses on), and settle into comfort. To live a slower life, to bring in parts of peace and intentional living you want back into your life, reading is quite possibly the best way to start. I wrote a blog about bringing peace into our daily lives and reading is a huge way to usher in peace.

I rank reading up there with exercise and sleep. Reading should be a part of our lives not just to keep our brains active, but for educational purposes in all areas. Reading used to be part of our lives a hundred years ago, but that was before the invention of movies and then the proliferation of television sets.

I read 77 books last year, which is an average of about 6.5 books a month, which is roughly 1.75 books a week. Two books a week is average for me, it's what I'm doing right now, and I find it an easy goal to keep.

But, we're all different. A few years ago, a book a month was my goal - any more than that and I felt overwhelmed. If two books a week are too much for you, try one book a week. Or better yet, a book a month. An average book takes about 4-5 hours worth of a reading commitment. This means you can read for a minimum of 10 minutes a day and finish one book a month. That is doable!

Reading shouldn't be a perfunctory action but a choice because you want to. And you should want to if you want to better yourself. Reading adds value to your life; it slows you down and gives you wisdom, education, and insight. As I said before, because reading is a luxury and a discipline, it takes time to "find" your time and exercise the habit. But, once you've acquired this skill, you'll want it in your life forever.

Happy reading.

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