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Benefits of Reading: How Readers Win at Life

If you’re a reader, you’re benefitting from these things that might just put you ahead of non-readers.

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It’s time to come right out and say it: you (a reader) are better than everyone else. That is: non-readers. Why, you ask? Because book lovers like you benefit daily from the hours you spend with your nose in books—benefits that are cognitive, health-related, psychological and emotional, and social.

(I suppose they could also be anti-social, if that’s your goal. Nothing like a book called How to Kill Men and Get Away with It to get the handsy mouth-breather next to you on the flight to back off. But I digress.)

We’ve been hearing about the benefits of regular reading since the dawn of the written word, and you, dear reader, took that info and ran with it! Unlike the 23% of Americans who did not read a book at all, in any form, in 2021.

Stack of books, with glasses and a plant

Some people are really resistant to doing things that are good for them, aren’t they? But not YOU!

You’re taking those reading benefits and climbing to the top of the people pile, quoting passages and conquering reading challenges left and right.

And if you’re among the rising number of people listening to audiobooks, then you’re even further ahead of the game!

Listening to audiobooks has similar benefits to reading print books and you can feel secure in your superiority as you yank those weeds and tackle the 64th chore on your list because you are HOOKED on that narration in your ears.

Related: How to Start Listening to Audiobooks

Whether you’re already an avid reader who needs an excuse to plaster the bathroom wall with pages from your favorite books (whatever it takes, amirite?) or a lapsed bookworm ready to stop your dead-eyed scroll and pick up a book again, there are plenty of reasons to add regular book reading time to your life. (Bragging rights and an obnoxious superiority complex* are just the start!)


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The life-changing benefits of reading books

Cognitive Benefits of Reading

Readers like you are SMART—and getting smarter all the time. A regular habit of reading can improve cognitive function, such as memory retention, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. It can also help combat age-related cognitive decline.

Here’s more on how reading a book makes you smarter (than everybody else):

Expanded Knowledge

Reading books exposes you to a ton of new topics you may not otherwise spend time learning about. Would thousands of people have any interest in the intelligence of the octopus or the construction of a cathedral if those topics weren’t wrapped into riveting stories?

But now here we all are, able to pontificate on the complicated politics of Middle Age monasteries (or at least answer a few Jeopardy! questions).

The fact is, reading increases your knowledge and understanding of different subjects, even if you’re not reading with the goal of learning.

That’s right: a steamy romance or page-turning thriller can help you grow intellectually, expand your understanding of the world, and provide you with valuable insight on various subjects.

All of these novels have settings, characters with specific careers, plot points based on current events…the list goes on. So while you may pick up the book for the romance or thrills, you’re still learning something (even if it’s not life-changing).

No matter the genre they write, authors go to great lengths to write books that ring true. And while creative license is definitely a thing, you can still benefit from the research that goes into writing a great book.

In short: reading makes you smarter.

Improved Memory

Admit it: even if you’re not that old, sometimes your dust brain emerges and you absolutely can’t remember what your coworker, Jan, told you just this morning about the new required HR training (though let’s be honest: maybe you were blocking that on purpose).

We all have momentary lapses, but research in older adults has found that reading improves both episodic and working memory, both of which can decline with age.

Episodic memory helps us remember events–while reading, we use it to track events in previous chapters in order to follow a story. Working memory allows us to track more recent details, such as in a series of paragraphs.

Keeping up a regular reading habit can help stave off regular age-related memory impairment. So you’re more likely to remember that soul-destroying training (lucky you!).

Even better, you’ll be the one in the nursing home bringing up all the good dirt that your non-reader friends forgot (I know you’ll be feisty, don’t deny it).

Increased Focus and Concentration

Some days, I start gathering laundry. The dangerous moment is when I have to search the house for strays. While picking out the neon socks hidden among the Barbies, I decide those Barbies really need to be put away. And then the LEGO pieces that litter the floor, and the fort kit that’s exploded throughout the room.

Because the playroom is in the basement, there are spiders, and now it’s time to obsessively vacuum every corner oh my god they are so gross.

Three hours (and every cobweb) later, I finally reemerge and start the laundry.

This task overload that has us jumping from one thing to the next like a caffeinated grasshopper is a painful part of mom life, and some days are worse than others.

But work and media does this to us, too. It’s so easy to start one task and get distracted by something else 30 seconds later, so we never spend more than a few minutes considering anything.

Reading books, on the other hand, requires focus and concentration. When you’re in your book, there’s nothing to jump to (especially if you put your phone out of reach).

Reading gives you practice focusing—something most of us sorely need—which can improve your attention span and ability to stay focused in other areas of your life.

The ability to single-task in your leisure activities can have a profound impact on your overall productivity and ability to focus, both at home and in your professional life.

(Plus, it’s kind of great to be able to quickly get back to your book when it doesn’t take three hours to put in a load of laundry. What a lovely [spin] cycle that is!)

Improved Writing Skills

Reading books by experienced authors helps you gain an understanding of grammar and syntax.

Can I name the parts of speech? Sure, a few. But grammar starts to live inside you when you read a lot of books. You feel it in your bones and you just know how to put together a sentence.

(note: now I’m bracing for the grammar critiques. We’re being conversational here, okay Jan?)

Not to mention spelling. Fellow childhood bookworms know: we are the ones who won the spelling bees, and not because we practiced obsessively. We just read obsessively.

Reading can also improve your writing skills by exposing you to different styles of writing, allowing you to become more creative in your own writing. Experimenting with different styles can help you refine your own.

Trying out spare and concise? Read some Cormac McCarthy, or (if you must) Hemingway.

Going for descriptive and detailed? Try Barbara Kingsolver or Donna Tartt.

Playing with humor? Listen to David Sedaris, and deconstruct how he tells a story. (And if you’re wanting to deconstruct, well, everything, in a hilariously absurd way, you must read Philomena Cunk.)

Related: 6 Mistakes to Avoid if You Want to Start a Reading Habit

Improved Critical Thinking

“Do your own research!!”

We’ve all heard this—maybe even said it a few times in the past few years. But what this really means for many people is watching some YouTube videos by dubious “experts” and taking what they say at face value.

I’m not here to dunk on YouTubers—there’s some incredible stuff out there.

But YOU, dear reader, approach that screen dumpster in the right way: critically.

And that’s because reading books helps you develop critical thinking skills. Books challenge you to analyze and evaluate different perspectives and ideas.

So when you see a video that tells you to get up at 4 a.m. and drink a mixture of coffee, lemon juice, chiles, and this extra special protein powder to hack your brain for ultimate productivity, you might be more inclined to consider the source, the motivation, and the feasibility of such claims.

Reading teaches you to make connections between what you read and what you see and experience in the world—and that carries over into other areas, many that are arguably more important than a few uncomfortable mornings. (helloooo, heartburn!)

Related: Why that thing you just read about is now appearing everywhere


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The cognitive benefits of reading books

Enhanced Problem-Solving Abilities

Reading books can help you develop your problem-solving abilities.

Not only can the books expose you directly to new ideas and solutions to problems, but stories can help you to think more abstractly.

Doing so will help you connect different concepts and ideas, which may enable you to find better, more creative solutions to problems.

So the next time you manage to figure out the calendar Jenga required to get one kid to karate and the other to gymnastics, at the same time the dog has to be at the groomer, and just when the AC guy finally says he can show up, give a little nod to your reading habit for your black-belt-level problem solving skills. (And then break into your chocolate stash, because you earned it.)

Curiosity and Imagination

Books spark your curiosity and imagination by exposing you to new ideas and possibilities.

Curiosity primes your brain for learning and stories are designed to keep you curious.

Even when reading for fun, that sense of curiosity can help you learn and imagine: how will the character solve the problem? Does this person have good or ill intentions? What is this new thing or place I’ve never heard of before, and how can I learn more?

One of the best things about reading is how it can spark curiosity for the strangest things—sometimes a throw-away comment by a character can lead you down a full-on research tunnel, and suddenly you’re the world’s foremost expert on the history of shoe buckles. Isn’t that the kind of superiority we all aspire to?

(Fun literary lore: apparently, Agatha Christie followed her own curiosity so intensely that she really would become an expert on the things she studied—and did so with Mesopotamian pottery, of all things. h/t this tweet.)

Increased Creativity

Reading can help spark creativity and encourage new ways of thinking.

By exploring the ideas, plots, and characters found in books, we can gain new perspectives and think of creative solutions to our own problems (which we touched on above).

But problem-solving isn’t the only reason to seek creativity.

Imagining stories, settings, and characters can foster our creative abilities, as we fill in the blanks between what we read and what we picture in our mind’s eye.

I think this is one reason readers often find film adaptations disappointing; they never quite live up to the rich worlds we’ve created in our imaginations, and they represent the interpretations of someone else.

(Personally, I still like watching adaptations. I just go into them with a resolve to just be curious about how someone else interpreted a story, while holding onto my own. Because mine is better. Obviously.)

Improved Language Skills

Reading can help you to build your vocabulary by introducing you to new words and phrases.

Using a new word in context can help you remember it more easily, which is beneficial in other areas of your life.

The University of Texas at Austin Child Development Center says that children of all ages show language development benefits from reading aloud with adults.

Adults, too, can see language, grammar, and vocabulary benefits from regular reading, which exposes readers to varying styles of writing, unfamiliar words, and even foreign languages.

(Though you still might mispronounce those shiny new words, if you’re just reading them on a page and never actually hear them. Ahem—epitome. quinoa. Colonel. Share yours in the comments!)

Better Comprehension

Regular reading builds your comprehension skills, which means you better understand written texts such as news reports or scientific studies.

Comprehending complex texts will enable you to make more informed choices in other areas of life, such as when voting, making big financial decisions, or choosing which of the 437 after-school activities will ensure that your second grader gets a perfect score on his SATs.

Get 30+ free printable reading lists and Explode Your TBR when You Subscribe to Updates

Health Benefits of Reading

Reading books can have benefits for your long-term health, including reduced stress, longer life, and improved sleep. Let’s examine:

Stress Reduction

Reading can be a great way to unwind and relax, reducing stress levels and promoting overall well-being.

One 2009 study found that reading can reduce stress up to 68%–better and faster than other relaxation methods like listening to music or a drinking cup of tea, though honestly, bonus points if you do all three. (This may or may not describe my ideal Saturday night.)

Longer Life

More ways avid readers win: a study by Yale University found that frequent readers live almost two years longer than non-readers.

People who read more than 3.5 hours per week were 23% less likely to die during the 12-year period of study.

So, how much should you read a day? For the longevity benefit, you only need to read about 30 minutes a day.

(If you feel like you could read all day and are wondering how much is too much, just pay attention to your body and stop when you feel uncomfortable. Numb feet + crossed-eyes = BAD. Follow for more medical tips!)

Better Sleep When Reading Before Bed

One randomized trial found that reading in bed before going to sleep improved sleep quality, though there was a slight increase in sleepiness during the day.

These days, it doesn’t matter how late it is. Before I go to sleep, I need at least a few minutes with my book to leave behind the stress of the day and get a good night of sleep.

My kids have adopted this habit pretty well, too, though my 12-year-old has wisely determined that The Hunger Games series is not good bedtime reading (because bedtime becomes midnight, and that’s bad for all of us).


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The health benefits of reading books

Psychological and Emotional Benefits of Reading

Reading can benefit your mental health and emotional development, aiding in personal growth, development of empathy and self-esteem. It’s also fun! Let’s learn more:

Improved Mental Health

Reading books has an impact on mental health. Reading can be the ultimate self-care when you’re feeling down and can even be beneficial for people battling depression, particularly when used in therapeutic settings.

I am, no joke, fascinated by the field of bibliotherapy, particularly in the use of fiction. And did you know that Greek tragedy was invented as a way to treat military veterans with PTSD (probably not called that at the time).

Here’s more from Angus Fletcher, a story scientist from Ohio State—the whole article is worth a read (particularly toward the end):

But literature can also have deeper therapeutic effects that were discovered in ancient Athens, where they developed Greek tragedy for military veterans. Greek tragedy has an effect called catharsis, which can help you overcome PTSD (post-traumatic stress syndrome).

Greek tragedy combines lots of different therapeutic techniques, from exposure therapy, to possibly eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and also a technique that involves the experience of helping someone else through trauma.

basically, it works like this. When you watch a tragedy, you know something bad is going to happen to a character before it happens. That puts you in the position of having survived the tragedy and being able to reach out to the character emotionally, to support them. This has an enormous therapeutic benefit. It builds self-efficacy in the brain.

Personal Growth

Reading can inspire personal growth and self-discovery, as you learn about different life experiences, and reflect on your own.

You may be inspired to take up a new hobby, learn new languages, change professions, travel to interesting places, or fly into battle on a dragon.

Empathy

Emotional intelligence, empathy, and compassion are all by-products of regular reading.

Studies have found that reading literary fiction in particular helps readers develop a theory of mind–or the ability to understand others’ perspectives, experiences, and states of mind.

Empathy is in short supply these days, and you are way ahead of the game if you can approach the world with it.


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The psychological benefits of reading books

Self-Esteem

All of this additional knowledge, improved health, and superior creativity are bound to give you a self-esteem boost and leave you feeling confident and competent (I mean, obviously. We’re already here discussing how you’re better than everyone else because you read books.).

You may feel ready to engage in discussions you wouldn’t have otherwise, just because you have a unique perspective from reading a book.

Fun

Don’t overlook FUN as a benefit of reading! Think: how often do you regularly seek out fun as an adult?

And I mean fun for you, not for your partner, your kids, or your dog (sure, you love them and find joy in their joy—let’s be real, especially your dog’s—but that’s not the same as pursuing your idea of what’s fun).

Fun is good for you, and some books are just plain fun. They make you laugh, they take you on a wild ride, and they delight you in myriad ways.

In fact, if you’re trying to create a love of reading, I recommend starting with FUN as your goal.

Think about what you love: a TV show, or hobby, or a particular type of humor. Look for books that relate to those things.

If the book doesn’t feel fun, put it down and try another one. Not every book will be fun, but starting with fun will help grow your love of books.

Eventually, you may just relate to those people who can’t get enough of books that rip out their souls and leave them sobbing on the floor (SO FUN!).

Social Benefits of Regular Reading

You may think of reading as a solitary activity, but it actually has social benefits as well. My introverted self will take all of those I can get. For instance…

Improved Communication

Reading can improve your communication skills so you express yourself more clearly and effectively.

You may be more eloquent, thanks to that massive vocabulary you’ve built over the years, or you may take inspiration from particularly self-assured characters and deliver a rousing monologue when the moment calls for it.

Community

Reading books can connect you with other readers and create a sense of community around shared interests and ideas.

In addition to direct connections with other readers online or in book clubs, reading brings a shared sense of humanity; experiencing the joys, sorrows, and struggles alongside the characters you come to know deeply, highlights our similarities as humans.

You’re likely to find communities inside books that you don’t want to leave—characters that feel like friends and family.

Keep your grip on reality, but enjoy the feeling of camaraderie that you feel—it’s real. This is what people mean when they say books are their friends.

Cultural Understanding

Reading books can expand your understanding of different cultures, exposing you to the perspectives of people from around the world.

Cultural understanding is not only useful for general knowledge, but it can help travel feel more accessible and less intimidating.

Your eyes will always be opened by international travel, but you may feel less like a fish out of water if you’ve spent time with characters who are native to your destination (maybe instead, you’ll just be…a bird in a new kind of tree?).


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The social benefits of reading books

Social Responsibility

Books teach important lessons about social responsibility, training us to think critically and ethically about the world. A story can inspire empathy and compassion for those less fortunate, while also providing a platform to challenge systemic injustices and work toward improvement.

I would argue that books are actually one of the most effective ways to instill social responsibility and empathy.

How often do we hear about people’s hearts and minds being changed after something happens to them, or to their loved ones? For many people, challenges don’t become real until they experience them themselves.

Books place us so deeply in the lives and emotions of characters that they’re an effective stand-in for having things happen to ourselves.

For instance: When we read The Hate U Give and sit in that car with Starr, feeling her terror and watching her unarmed friend die at the hands of the police, the grief and outrage are so much more tangible for those of us who have never experienced such trauma and loss.

What’s more, we don’t need to read about specific experiences in order to tap into this sense of social responsibility and empathy; it translates.

So when you hear about injustice or tragedy or challenges, you’re better able to see the humans affected by it—and consider your role in addressing it.

Related: The Discomfort of Enjoying Books Inspired by Real-Life Tragedies

Open-Mindedness

Reading books can help to foster a more open-minded outlook, encouraging you to view the world from various perspectives and be more accepting of different types of people, viewpoints, and lifestyles.

Reading can also help you to recognize and dismantle your own biases—and we all have them.

And while you’re being open-minded about the different types of people you encounter in books, let’s also be open-minded about different kinds of books.

New genres can do all of the above for us as readers, while also challenging and surprising our brains by telling stories in new and interesting ways.

That sense of surprise is one of the reasons I love to genre-jump; mixing things up keeps us attuned to the charms and challenges of even our favorite genres.

Readers=Winners

Clearly, all of those cognitive, health, psychological, and social benefits of reading have added up and created one superior human. Claim your trophy!

And keep reading. Because it’s really good for you, it’s fun, and you’ll have all the good dirt on your nursing home roommate, Velma.

(*I hope it goes without saying that the superiority schtick here is entirely tongue-in-cheek!)

I’m sure there are more, and most readers have more personal ways that books benefit their lives (and make them superior humans ????).

What are your favorite benefits of reading?

Related: Well-Read is Dead. Here’s What to Aim for Instead

Get 30+ free printable reading lists and Explode Your TBR when You Subscribe to Updates

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3 Comments

  1. What a great!!! Post, thoroughly enjoyed it, even with tongue-in-cheek comments????. And I will never ever for the life of me understand a person who says I don’t read/I don’t like to read.???? I was raised on reading by my two parents who both happened to be English teachers & reading is still my favorite thing I love to do, and I definitely concur – It does help make one smarter????????!

  2. Re: correct pronunciations: female names Penelope and Siobhan

  3. I first discovered the word “writhing” in a book when I was about 12. Since I didn’t know that the root was “writhe,” I pronounced it with a short “i” sound as in the word “with.” This would have been fine, except I felt the need to use it in a sentence said to my parents. I don’t remember the sentence, but I believe I said something like my emotions made me feel like I was “writhing on the ground.” First, they couldn’t figure out the word, so they had me spell it. Second, they were laughing hysterically, both at my mispronunciation and my high drama. I, of course, was deeply offended, but now I laugh at my overly serious self.

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