Why Reading Fiction Is Good For You

Reading is far more than an enjoyable pastime — it actually comes with a host of long-term benefits.

By Keelia Clarkson3 min read
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Shutterstock/Dean Drobot

It’s no secret that work, social media, and Netflix binges take up a considerable amount of our day. The average American watches up to five hours of TV every day, spends over two hours on social media, and lives one-third of their life at work. Simply making a living and relaxing at home after a hard day’s work seems to claim quite a bit of our time. With so much of our time accounted for, we’ve seen a decline in reading trends, with a quarter of Americans reporting they haven’t read a book in the past year. 

Although we all had our fair share of reading assignments in school and had to write essays on a few literary classics, it’s safe to say that as soon as we graduate, much of our reading habits go out the window. Instead, we focus on our adult lives and career. We consider reading to be a nice pastime for youngsters, but not necessary for everyday life once we don’t have an essay to write. But where do we get that idea?

Reading Isn’t Considered Important

Most books, especially those worth reading, take time to get through. And with our increasingly chaotic schedules as we get older, a common reason for not picking up a novel throughout the day is feeling as though we just don’t have time. From our busy mornings, to the commute to work, to the utter exhaustion we often feel the second we crawl into bed, reading for pleasure falls by the wayside.

Many Americans didn’t grow up seeing reading as a particularly enjoyable way to spend our time. 

And due to the fact that the majority of books young adults have read were assigned in school, with the expectation of book reports looming over our heads, many Americans today didn’t grow up seeing reading as a particularly enjoyable way to spend our time. A quick scroll through TikTok sounds easier and asks less of us after a long day. Plus, why not just catch the movie adaptation, which would take way less time (and effort)?

The Importance of Reading

Despite our hesitance to put down the TV remote in favor of a novel, studies have shown that people who make a daily habit of reading are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s later in life due to the mental stimulation it provides — they’re engaging in one of the best workouts for their brain, sharpening their thinking and increasing their ability to focus. Readers also experience reduced stress levels after just a few minutes of curling up with a good book. And unsurprisingly, reading is the most efficient way to expand our vocabulary, a pursuit that, when continued well after high school, improves our writing and communication with others.

And Fiction Might Be Best of All

We may be tempted to fulfill our daily reading time with historical accounts of wars, perusing books that explore scientific theories, cracking open a guide to self-improvement, or catching up on the never-ending onslaught of world news, especially in a culture that values what we know, what we achieve, and using our time in the most obviously beneficial way. And while those are all fascinating reads, we shouldn’t stop there. 

Reading fictional stories is deeply valuable to our personal growth and well-being. In a time when the importance of acknowledging each other’s hardships is crucial, reading fiction is instrumental in helping us to become more empathetic by allowing us to see life through a totally foreign lens. 

Reading fiction is instrumental in helping us to become more empathetic. 

Fictional stories also present us with new situations in which we have the ability to observe characters’ decisions and their consequences, both good and bad. We can ponder and judge what a character did or should have done and what we ourselves would have done in their place, thereby gaining wisdom and forming our own moral character. Fiction allows us to interact with the world and with different kinds of people in a once-removed way that allows us to gain virtue and knowledge without having to learn through (often painful) personal experience. 

Moreover, while we’re aware that reading helps our stress levels go down, fiction specifically enables us to escape our life’s troubles by engaging with our imagination, granting our minds access to another world. And after a year like 2020, I’d say we all deserve an extended vacation exploring the English countryside, getting lost in a world of Jane Austen’s creation.

How To Figure Out Where To Start

It can be daunting to jump into literary classics like Moby-Dick or Anna Karenina. So many of these stories use language we’re not accustomed to or seem to stretch on longer than we’d anticipated. If consuming such material isn’t your cup of tea, consider the film and TV genres you tend to go for — I adore mysteries and British culture, so Agatha Christie is naturally one of my favorite authors. 

Consider the film and TV genres you tend to go for and pick similar books.

The most wonderful thing about fiction is that there’s something out there for everyone. Whether you most enjoy WWII stories, sci-fi adventures, coming of age tales, or romantic novels, there are endless books — both older classics and modern stories — to choose from. And when in doubt, revisiting our old childhood favorites like Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, or Anne of Green Gables is bound to help awaken a love for literature. 

Closing Thoughts

Curling up with a good book is more than mere entertainment for the night — it’s undeniably beneficial not just for our memory, stress levels, and vocabulary, but for our emotional intelligence and well-being. Plus, the book is always better than the movie, trust me.