Is This Activity the Key to Happiness?

Bookworms rejoice: Research show reading may make you happier.

“Oh for a book and a shady nook…” – John Wilson.

In a dark room, late at night, a little light can be found… Much to my fiancé’s dismay, it’s my little reading light illuminating my latest “can’t-put-it-down” literary obsession. Life can be pretty trying at times between challenges, obstacles, and not enough hours in the day. Complaining is easy, but in most cases you’re just preaching to the choir.

So perhaps it’s time to curb the complaints and find a way to unwind and “escape.” Having a diversion from the day to day, whether it’s a break from the same old routine—or never-ending chaos—is necessary. While on some days I certainly wish that I could escape to a tropical island with my dog, you’ve got to be realistic. My go-to escape? Pages. Pages upon pages of words that can transport me to any location, straight from the comfort of my couch, office break room, beach chair, or inexplicably uncomfortable plane seat.

Few things please me (and let’s be honest—probably you, too, dear reader) more than diving into and devouring a good book. That said, this isn’t just in our heads, fellow bookworms: Research shows that reading is actually good for your health, can make you happier, and more empathetic (that’s a fiction-reader’s benefit right there).

The info about reading improving overall happiness comes from a survey of two thousand adults. Yes, the poll comes from an adult reading program and the Centre for Research into Reading, Literature and Society at the University of Liverpool, but the feedback speaks for itself. Over a quarter attributed reading to inspiring them to make life-improving changes. And 41 percent ranked reading above a night out on the town, wine, and even a bubble bath when it comes to relaxation.

Forty-one percent ranked reading above a night out on the town, wine, and even a bubble bath when it comes to relaxation.

If you’re not already a voracious reader, or want to read but can’t seem to find the time, you now have some pretty good reasons to make it more of a priority. Why not combine that book on the shelf, some Pinot Noir, and a bubble bath and call it a night?

Still not convinced—or eager to read more? I get you—and you don’t have to take my word for it

An article in The New Yorker spoke to the benefits of turning the pages, likening spending time reading to meditating. Reporter Ceridwen Dovery writes:

Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. Regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers. “Fiction and poetry are doses, medicines,” the author Jeanette Winterson has written. “What they heal is the rupture reality makes on the imagination.”

When you think about it, it makes sense really, that the act of reading can actually bring a sense of peace. How often do we see people reading on the train, or in the airport? It’s probably the most common activity, in two of the more hectic environments. I don’t know about you, but commuting via public transportation is not my favorite activity. Transportation from this no-fun-zone via text? Um, yes please.

While perusing your phone and reading a brief synopsis of what’s going on in the world—breaking news headlines and all—counts as reading, what you’re really missing out on is the benefit of “deep reading.” In an era where less is more, and time is of the essence, deep reading (and its benefits) seem to be lost on many (and now I’m hoping you’ve not just skimmed the headline here…). Maybe you’re thinking, why should I care about deep reading anyway? Well, according to TIME, deep reading is a “distinctive experience,” one that’s “slow, immersive, rich in sensory detail and emotional and moral complexity.” I’d take that over idly staring at the other passengers on the train any day.

The best way to reap the benefits of reading? Find something that truly interests you, something that grabs your attention and holds it, making you want to turn the page. If biographies bore you, maybe fiction will tickle your fancy (and give your empathy powers a boost). TIME reflects on research that shows: “individuals who often read fiction appear to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them, and view the world from their perspectives.”

Soon you’ll find yourself in the blissful half-devastated, half-exhausted, and wholly full state that comes from reading an incredible book from cover to cover. And, by the sounds of the research, with a smile on your face.

Maggie Peikon bio2Maggie Peikon is a New York native, writer, and sufferer of insatiable wanderlust. An avid endorphin seeker she has a constant need to be moving, seeking adventure in all she does. She is a lover of travel, daydreaming, fitness, thunderstorms, and her dog, Finley. Despite the fact that she has to take medication daily due to a thyroidectomy, Maggie still believes that laughter will always be the best medicine. Follow her musings on Instagram and Twitter.