Is Reading Fiction a Waste of Time?

There is no doubt fiction makes a better job of the truth.

Posted by TWW Team on February 11, 2021

“There is no doubt fiction makes a better job of the truth.”
― Doris May Lessing, Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography, to 1949

1. Empathy: Imagining creates understanding

To put yourself in the shoes of others and grow your capacity for empathy, you can hardly do better than reading fiction. Multiple studies have shown that imagining stories helps activate the regions of your brain responsible for better understanding others and seeing the world from a new perspective.

2. Reading is most effective for managing stress

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.

3. Sleep: Regular readers sleep better

Before bed reading disengages from the whole day's work and gets the sleep needed to wake up refreshed and ready for the next day.

Buffer’s CEO, Joel, has a ritual in the evening of going for a short walk and, upon returning, going straight to bed and reading a fiction book. He reports that it helps him disengage from the work he’s done in the day and get the sleep he needs to wake up refreshed and ready for the next day.

4. Readers have less mental decline in later life

In later life, readers have a 32 per cent lower rate of mental decline compared to their peers.

In addition to slower memory decline, those who read more have been found to show less characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a 2001 study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

5. Inclusivity: Stories open your mind

Stories could be used as a tool for improving attitudes toward stigmatized groups.

This great, short TED talk by Lisa Bu shows just how much:

6. Fiction readers build more language.

Fiction can help you get there. A 2013 Emory University compared the brains of people after they read fiction (specifically, Robert Harris’ Pompeii over nine nights) to the brains of people who didn’t read.

The brains of the readers showed more activity in certain areas than those who didn’t read—especially the left temporal cortex, the part of the brain typically associated with understanding language.

7. Fictions allows for uncertainty (where creativity thrives!)

8. Reading makes you happier

People who read books regularly are on average more satisfied with life, happier, and more likely to feel that the things they do in life are worthwhile.

A survey of 1,500 adult readers in the UK found that 76% of them said reading improves their life and helps to make them feel good.

Over to you!

Can you tell a difference in yourself when you take some time out to read fiction? What are some of your favourite books for reading?

I’d love to hear all your thoughts and recommendations. Mail to us (at [email protected]).



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