Reading is the best medicine

Most authors know that a book can change your life (particularly if it’s yours and becomes a best-seller) and Fast Company writer Mike Grothaus has found that his personal experience of a life-changing book is backed by scientific research.

The book that changed Grothaus’s life is Leo Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace. He says, ‘As well as 1,500 pages of unforgettable characters and a compelling generational plot, it’s because right before I started reading it, my life was in a rut.

‘I had been passed over for a promotion at Apple and rejected by a graduate school. This double whammy left me doubting myself, my abilities, and my future. So when I came across the massive tome that is War and Peace, I thought, Why not? I’m not doing anything else.

‘Two months later, I finished the book and immediately knew I had a new favorite because it changed something in me. It’s almost impossible to explain why, but after reading it I felt more confident in myself, less uncertain about my future.

‘I became more assertive with my bosses. I got back on the horse, so to speak, and applied to three more graduate schools. I attended three interviews and got accepted to all three schools (without mentioning War and Peace at all). As weird as it sounds, reading War and Peace put me back in control of my life — and that’s why it’s my favorite book.’

We could all do with a book like that. The book that changed my life was another Russian classic, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Those Russians certainly knew a bit about transformative fiction.

Grothaus reports that research by the University of Liverpool in the UK shows that reading can help to fend off conditions such as stress, depression and dementia.

Dr Josie Billington, deputy director of the Centre for Research into Reading at the University of Liverpool, specialises in research on reading and health. She says, “Reading can offer richer, broader, and more complex models of experience which enable people to view their own lives from a refreshed perspective and with renewed understanding.”

Sue Wilkinson, CEO of The Reading Agency, a UK charity that encourages people to read more, says reading has been shown to help promote respect for and tolerance of others’ views.

She adds that readers are, on average, more satisfied with life, happier and more likely to feel that the things they do in life are worthwhile. A recent survey of 1,500 adult readers reveals that 76% say reading improves their life and helps to make them feel good.

You don’t have to read the works of the great Russian novelists though to reap the benefits. Wilkinson says you should read whatever you like, the important thing is to read, but you shouldn’t stick with a book if you’re not enjoying it.

You can read the full article by Dave Grothaus at Fast Company — and remember, just reading it will make you feel better.