reading fiction can make you happier

Can reading make you happier?

Behavior, ,

Have you heard of “bibliotherapy”? [We had not heard of bibliotherapy until recently.] The term means you can become happier, even healthier, if you do more reading. But not self-help books; we are talking about reading fiction.

Reading therapy in history

The practice of bibliotherapy can be traced to the Ancient Greeks. Above the entrance to their library at Thebus was carved “This Library is a Healing Place for the Soul”. Much later, Sigmund Freud used literature in therapy sessions. After the First World War, soldiers suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (a term not used at the time), were often prescribed certain books to help them recover.

Brain research

Before functional MRI scanning studies, research demonstrated that people who read lots of fiction tended to be more empathetic. More recent studies have agreed. It may be that people who read lots of fiction are better able to imagine what others are thinking and feeling, and thus able to deal better with others in real life. 

Dr. Keith Oatley, of the University of Toronto (Canada), in his 2011 book  “Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction, wrote “Fiction is a kind of simulation, one that runs not on computers, but on minds: a simulation of selves in their interactions with others in the social world…based in experience, and involving being able to think of possible futures.” 

This is one theory of why reading fiction is good for us. Books can act like best friends. When we immerse ourselves in a story, we can test out how we might interact with others in the world, without risk of lasting damage. According to the authors of “The Novel Cure”, novels “have the power to transport you to another existence and see the world from a different point of view.”

The Novel Cure

The subtitle of this book, written in 2013, is “From abandonment to zestlessness: 751 books to cure what ails you”. It is written by two long-term friends who met at Cambridge University (England) more than 20 years ago. They started sharing books with each other then, and developed such a large knowledge of books that they started a clinic to help people overcome a wide variety of health issues. They suggest certain books appropriate for the individual and their problem. Many of their recommendations are summarized in their book, not yet available in Portuguese, but can be downloaded and translated via Google or other services.

Does bibliotherapy work?

Bibliotherapy is now used in settings from hospitals to prisons to the offices of many psychologists. That it works is supported by functional MRI scans. Reading fiction seems to put the brain in a pleasurable state, similar to meditation, with similar benefits. Research studies have shown that “Regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers.”

Who, these days, doesn’t need a safe escape from reality? We suggest a good book as both a nice escape and as a way to make you a little happier and even healthier.

To find a doctor, of any specialty, anywhere in Brazil, check out our website:

See also in ProcuraMed:

What is doomscrolling, and is it harmful?

Four ways to lessen loneliness while social distancing 

Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)

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This post is related to the specialties Clinical Medicine, Psychiatry. Below is a list of some doctors related to these specialties.