Whether you love to read or not, science shows us the many benefits of reading a book: it lowers stress, slows memory decline, improves sleep and increases vocabulary. In this post, we uncovered 5 ways reading will improve your life that aren't often mentioned, and included a list of book recommendations to help you (and kids of all ages) grow in each area. If you have other book suggestions, please comment below and we'll add them to our book list!
I’ve seen a couple year-end Facebook posts this week that swirl around in my brain as I ponder goals for the new year. One friend posted that her husband ran EVERY SINGLE DAY in 2018. He’s a dad and husband - a normal guy with a job and a life - and he committed to running every day for 365 days. I read that and felt awed and lazy. Another friend posted that she read 97 books in 2018, and then she gave her best-of list. Be still my heart. I tore through that list and wrote down everything I hadn’t read that looked good.
Reading’s a great hobby. It lowers stress, makes road trips a breeze and transforms days at the beach into literally a slice of heaven. But there are also more meaningful reasons to read, and raise a new generation of book lovers. Whether you consider yourself a reader or not, you should take a hard look at how reading could improve your life in 2019. Maybe it's about how much you read, what you read or what you do with what you read. This list of 5 ways reading will improve your life will help you decide.
Spoiler alert: I’m a book nerd. That may not come as any surprise since people who like to write often like to read, but my reading addiction is pretty serious. On a four-day, kid-free vacation with my husband in December, I brought and nearly finished three books, which means I likely ignored both my spouse and friendly strangers to an unhealthy degree.
My passion for reading isn’t a trait I acquired in adulthood, like running for fun or eating salads. From my earliest memories, I loved nothing more than losing myself in a book. A second cousin snail mailed me at least 100 hard-cover Nancy Drew books she outgrew when I was maybe 11. I read them all. Babysitters Club? Oh, yes. My parents gave me books for Christmas and then forbid me to start reading until other holiday celebrations were done, because once I disappeared with that book, I was not coming back for hours. Depends how long it took me to finish the book.
Not a reader? This note’s for you
I teach at a university, and every semester I climb up onto a very tall soapbox to tell my students why reading and writing are skills that will help you get any job they want and then advance professionally throughout their career. Plenty of my students admit they don’t love to read, and typically the reasons fall into one of the following categories.
- I’m a slow reader so it takes me forever to finish a book
- I get distracted while reading, and I just can’t get into it
- It’s kind of boring. I would just rather get my information from podcasts, the internet or TV.
To all of these reasons, I say: You haven’t found the right book (or magazine, newspaper, ebook) for you. Anyone can read. And like it. And benefit from it.
I enlisted the help of my 11-year-old son for the following list of reasons to make reading a priority in 2019, so it applies to both adults and kids. We both also added some book suggestions.
Reading Makes You An Interesting Person
Book smarts and street smarts aren’t the only two options under the smart umbrella. There are plenty of people I consider really smart because they’re experts in certain subjects - sometimes obscure subjects. Other people I think of as smart just seem to know all kinds of random information. Show me a person with a life-long thirst for learning and I’ll show you a person who is never bored or boring. A close friend of mine’s mom used to tell her, “Only boring people get bored.” I saw truth in that mantra and adopted it with my own kids. It goes over really well with whining preschoolers and elementary school kids, in case you're wondering.
Let me be clear that reading to learn things doesn’t have to mean reserving library copies of all the classics you can remember from your high school required reading lists. I will forever hate A Tale of Two Cities. Read things you actually find interesting: how-to books, fiction books, magazines, graphic novels. Your choice.
I heard a successful colleague once say that he always made sure to read only three things: the Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone and USA Today. Between the three, he knew enough about finances, general news and pop culture to have an educated conversation with anyone he might meet.
My father-in-law gives my kids magazine subscriptions for Christmas each year and they love it. Right now, we get Highlights and Nat Geo Kids. We also have several Guinness Books, and the kids invite friends over to lay across our couches poring over the amazing feats in those books.
My kids learned about historical events from awesome fiction series like the Magic Tree House and I Survived. They’ll reference the volcanic eruption in Pompeii or the Titanic in random conversations based on what they learned in those books.
Books can make adults smarter, too. I'm a Trivial Pursuit of random facts about places, hobbies, history, law and medicine thanks to my eclectic reading habits and the authors who did their homework.
A few books that taught me and/or my son interesting things:
- Book Thief - a great historical fiction (18,000 good reviews on Amazon don’t lie)
- The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind - a true memoir that reads like a novel - my son read the young reader’s edition
- Educated - an amazing 2018 memoir that hit the top of the New York Times list and was praised by everyone from Bill Gates to Oprah
Wild - the tale of a 1,000-mile-hike along the Pacific Crest Trail
Reading Gets Kids into College (and Gets Them a Job)
You might think I’m exaggerating here. Nope.
Let me explain: I cannot diagram a sentence. I do not know what a comma splice is. But I know grammar, and I can read quickly and accurately absorb what I read because I’ve done it a lot. This muscle memory meant I got good standardized test scores because I aced not only the reading portions of the tests, but the math and science word problems, because reading comprehension is also more than half that battle. My confidence with writing translated into good college essays and a scholarship. After college, I crafted strong cover letters and got interviews and landed jobs.
Just in case you’re thinking that this only applies to me because I ultimately pursued a career related to writing, nope again. My husband works in civil engineering crunching numbers and doing calculations. But he and his colleagues need to read and write business proposals and reports quickly and accurately to win business and keep clients. They also need to network and build relationships, and it's hard to do that without things to talk about or use as a point of connection.
So read whatever makes you want to keep reading. Find subjects and authors that captivate you. Chick lit, fantasy, memoirs written by your favorite celebrity - it doesn’t matter.
A few books that I or my son loved and learned from:
- JoJo Moyes, Me Before You - Truly one of my favorite books. Not a light-hearted read, but just wow.
- Julie of the Wolves
- The Language of Flowers
Reading Makes You More Empathetic and Grateful
I salute my son’s elementary librarian. At her encouragement, my son’s 2018 fifth grade reading list blew mine out of the water in terms of stories that will move and change you. These books inspired important conversations in our home about everything from World War II to refugees to racially-charged shootings in the news. They taught my son that his complaints - often Fortnite related - paled in comparison to people without clean water or kids suffering from sickness or the loss of parents. Part of me worried these books would make him fearful or anxious, and they probably did in some ways. But they also planted seeds of empathy and gratitude.
I need to read these books myself so I can talk to my son more about what he’s learning and bring up examples when he faces difficult situations in his own life.
A few books my son read this year that changed him:
- Refugee - The stories of three refugee children: a Jewish boy in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, a Cuban girl in 1994 and a Syrian boy in 2015
- Ghost Boys - A book narrated by the ghost of a 12-year-old boy shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat
- A Long Walk to Water
- Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus
- Counting by 7s
- The Breadwinner
Reading Makes You Happier
A University of Liverpool study found that people who read for pleasure feel happier about themselves and their lives. Just 30 minutes of reading a week made them more satisfied with their lives, more socially connected and better prepared for life’s difficulties.
Other research shows reading is the best way to relax and calms nerves faster and better than listening to music or taking a walk because the distraction of being swept into another world relaxes the tension in your muscles and heart.
Books that made me laugh or just plain forget about real life:
- The Shadow of the Wind
- Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) - Mindy Kaling
- Harry Potter
- Anything by Liane Moriarty
Reading Helps You Cope With Life
Reading provides an outstanding coping mechanism when life gets stressful. I immerse myself in what I’m reading until I enter what psychology refers to as the flow state, or being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. Science shows this is the “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.” It makes me think of athletes or musicians who describe being “in the zone” during their most amazing performances.
There are also books with tangible processes and solutions to address many of the problems we face. Educated and experienced people write about what they know, and their wisdom can change your perspective and your actions.
Books I’ve read or want to read to help me navigate life:
- Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Tranforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead by Brene Brown - I plan to read this and others by Brown in 2019 after hearing too many positive things from people I respect
- Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niquist
- Anxious For Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World by Max Lucado
- 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker
- The Bible