The Power of Pleasure Reading

Posted: February 19, 2019 9:00:00 AM CST

What if I told you there was this one little trick that could reduce feelings of stress and depression, increase feelings of relaxation, and expand your ability to cope with difficult situations? It's the simple act of reading for pleasure! When it comes to enjoyment of life and our ability to cope with the challenges we face, people who read report lower levels of stress, higher self-esteem, and greater self-acceptance and life satisfaction.

Emotional and Psychological Benefits

While people who read are reporting these benefits, there's also science to back it up! Psychologists believe reading reduces stress because during the act of reading the human mind is forced to concentrate. The distraction of being taken into a literary world eases the tensions in muscles and the heart helping individuals to clear their minds and minimize bodily tension.

In one study conducted by Mindlab International at the University of Sussex, subjects were put through a series of tests to increase their stress levels and heart rate. They were then tested with a variety of traditional relaxation methods.

The results:

  • Reading reduced stress by 68%
  • Listening to music by 61%
  • Drinking a cup of tea or coffee by 54%
  • Talking a walk by 42%
  • Playing video games by 21%

According to cognitive neuropsychologist Dr. David Lewis, "subjects only needed to read, silently, for six minutes to slow down their heart rate and ease tension in the muscles. In fact, it got subjects to stress levels lower than before they started."

Social Benefits

It may seem counterintuitive that reading, which is typically considered a solitary act, can have so many social benefits. Once again, readers report closer relationships with friends and to their community, greater understanding and empathy with others, and stronger and more engaged awareness of social issues and of cultural diversity.

In addition, a number of recent studies (this one and this one) have demonstrated that reading fiction, particularly literary fiction, seems to boost the level of empathy in the people who read it, enhancing their ability to see the world through another person's eyes. Imagining stories helps activate the regions of your brain responsible for better understanding others and seeing the world from a new perspective.

Why we don’t read

So with all of these benefits, why don't we read more? Sadly, recent studies are showing that reading for pleasure is on the decline. One possible reason is that too often reading is associated with work. Reading is something we are required to do for school or work and there’s frequently little choice in what we are required to read. This lack of choice can take the fun out of reading.

Additionally, there are just too many other things competing for our attention. Movies are no longer something you watch in the theater but something you watch at home, video games have become increasing sophisticated and popular, and of course there’s the internet with its infinite distractions.

Make room for reading

If you're already a reader, you likely don't need to be convinced of the benefits of spending some of your leisure time with a great work of literature. But how do we convince those who are not readers? The problem isn't just that people don't know what they're missing. It's that they also don't care. Spending time reading literature must be a conscious choice. We can choose to live in the moment or we can ask ourselves, what are we getting out of checking Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? Is it making us happier or more successful in any way at all?

Gracy Olmstead, a senior writer for The Federalist described it beautifully,

There is a reason societies and civilizations throughout history have treasured the written word. It is art—beautiful and awe-inspiring for its own sake. It deserves our attention, our contemplation. Literature's imaginative and creative power—the way it opens our eyes and sharpens our perceptions of the world—is highly valuable and unique. Whereas so many other daily experiences can deaden and dull, literature makes us fully alive again.

Popular Reading Collection

It is for this reason the we offer a popular reading collection at Bell Library. Located next to the Circulation Desk, we order new releases from a variety of fiction and nonfiction categories including graphic novels and young adult literature. Here are the new titles ordered in February. Come and check one out today!

cover of 13-things-mentally-strong-women-do.jpg13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don't Do
by Amy Morin


cover of 99-percent-mine.jpg99 Percent Mine
by Sally Thorne


Cover of an anonymous-girl.jpgAn Anonymous Girl
by Greer Hendricks


Cover of bloom.jpgBloom
by Kevin Panetta


Cover of clock-dance.jpgClock Dance
by Anne Tyler


Cover of The current.jpgThe Current
by Tim Johnston


Cover of The dreamers.jpgThe Dreamers
by Karen Thompson Walker


Cover of echo-north.jpgEcho North
by Joanna Ruth Meyer


Cover of The first-conspiracy.jpgThe First Conspiracy
by Brad Meltzer


Cover of The gilded-wolves.jpgThe Gilded Wolves
by Roshani Chokshi


Cover of The lost-girls-of-paris.jpgThe Lost Girls of Paris
by Pam Jenoff


Cover of maid.jpgMaid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive
by Stephanie Land


Cover of the mystery-of-three-quarters.jpgThe Mystery of Three Quarters
by Sophie Hannah


Cover of Of-blood-and-bone.jpgOf Blood and Bone
by Nora Roberts


Cover of The paragon-hotel.jpgThe Paragon Hotel
by Lyndsay Faye


Cover of she-lies-in-wait.jpgShe Lies in Wait
by Gytha Lodge


Cover of something-in-the-water.jpgSomething in the Water
by Catherine Steadman


Cover of sweet-home-cafe.jpgSweet Home Café Cookbook
by Albert Lukas


Cover of two-can-keep-a-secret.jpgTwo Can Keep a Secret
by Karen M. McManus


Cover of The wicked-king.jpgThe Wicked King
by Holly Black


Cover of where-the-crawdads-sing.jpgWhere the Crawdads Sing
by Delia Owens


Cover of winter-of-the-witch.jpgThe Winter of the Witch
by Katherine Arden


Happy readings!



By: Anjanette Jones

Category: Services for You, Books & More