In an ever-connected world we are constantly surrounded by text – be that emails, news, social media or university readings. But amidst this bombardment of information, when was the last time you actually sat and read a book for pure enjoyment? Is there not still a desire to pick up a piece of fiction and escape our hectic lives into the imagination of childhood?
Now more than ever, reading as a form of selfish relaxation is becoming a hobby of nostalgic past times. A recent study by The Reading Agency stated that in England, 31% of adults don’t read in their free time, and a shocking 46% of young people aged 16 to 24 don’t either. This is hardly surprising given the amount of text we consume every day, an evening spent watching a series often seems much more enticing. However, reading for pleasure can have surprising well-being benefits.
Reading for pleasure, even for just 10 minutes a day can lead to social improvements and an increased feeling of connectedness. Reading voluntarily, especially fictional works, is increasingly proven to be a way of improving empathy and giving insight into the worldly view of others and human nature in general.
When we get lost in a story, we temporarily escape our own lives and follow the thinking of other characters which can lead to a better understanding of other cultures. This is surely of great importance in an increasingly divided, hectic and isolating world. For example, in a reading group survey of participants aged 18-64, 19 per cent believed reading stops feelings of loneliness. Not only do we feel a sense of belonging and companionship with the characters and their experiences, participation in shared reading groups also helps form links with the wider community through shared interests. This has been continuously linked to enhanced relaxation, calmness, concentration and quality of life as well as feelings of common purpose.In the same way that watching the same TV show or sharing social media content, discussing things that you’ve read is another way of finding common ground with other individuals.
However, it is often more manageable to just pick up a book of choice when we feel in the mood, rather than to join an organised club. This individual and isolated form of reading can also improve our understanding of our own identity and the way we view both the world and the society around us. Our vocabulary and general knowledge is also enriched when engaging with a text that we have chosen to read for ourselves.