Can Reading Make you Happier?

Winter is here. And with it comes The Winter Blues. Caused by a deficiency of sunlight, the body begins to feel heavy and darkness creeps over the mind. I should spend more time outside, but my go-to remedy is reading. (It seems like reading is my remedy for every ailment.)

Ceridwen Dovey’s recent article in The New Yorker, Can Reading Make You Happier? explores Bibliotherapy – the ideas that one can prescribe certain books to find a certain cure. Like Dovey, I “pack more books than clothes”, and “I suspect that reading fiction is one of the few remaining paths to transcendence, that elusive state in which the distance between the self and the universe shrinks. Reading fiction makes me lose all sense of self, but at the same time makes me feel most uniquely myself.”

Traced back to the Ancient Greeks and popping up again after WWI, as we know it, Bibilotheraphy began when friends Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin “began prescribing novels to cure each other’s ailments, such as a broken heart or career uncertainty.” This progressed until Alain de Botton’s The School of Life offered Bibliotheraphy clinics with Berthoud and Elderkin as the first Bibliotherapists. The two also wrote a book titled The Novel Cure: An A to Z of Literary Remedies

Novels cure. When I am feeling sad, I retreat to my bedroom and open my worn copy of Harry Potter. It makes me forget everything around me and takes me back to long, hot summer days of continuous reading. When I feel lonely, I read passages that contain my favourite characters that keep me company.

“So even if you don’t agree that reading fiction makes us treat others better, it is a way of treating ourselves better. 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. “Fiction and poetry are doses, medicines,” the author Jeanette Winterson has written. “What they heal is the rupture reality makes on the imagination.””

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