Growing Happy and the Power of Reading.
I love to read. It fascinates, stimulates, calms and relaxes me. So why am I so passionate about it:
1. IT’S GOOD FOR YOU
Physically it brings your cortisol levels down and puts you in a contemplative state similar to meditation. In fact, there’s an argument that content is irrelevant: whether it’s the Radio Times or The Brothers Karamazov, your brain waves and breathing settle down and your scattered mind becomes more focused.
This leads on to the mental benefits. Reading helps you concentrate on just one thing, so developing the habit of sustained attention. Here’s a parable that comes to mind on the question of staying with one task:
There was once an unruly, badly-behaved elephant. Whenever he went through the crowded market he couldn’t keep his trunk to himself. Left and right he plucked fruit and vegetables from the outraged villagers’ stalls. The market holders were very angry and didn’t know what to do.
However, his mahout (elephant driver) had the solution. He simply gave the mischievous pachyderm a stick to grasp. No more wayward behaviour, because the elephant now had something to do with his trunk.
Let a book be your stick. I struggle to concentrate on anything for more than 10 minutes. However, give me an exciting plot or a brilliantly explained piece of science and I can happily stay directed for much longer.
2. CONVERSATIONS WITH GREAT MINDS
How else could you have access to the words and minds of Tolstoy, Dickens, Balzac, Joyce, Stephen Hawking or Bertrand Russell? Reading a book by a great novelist or thinker is a chance to get intimate with a genius from another time and place. Reading a great book can be like experiencing life and insights on the highest plane. Distilled wisdom, beautifully crafted truth and beauty. But it doesn’t have to be high art.
Everyone has a story to tell and you might not be in the mood for high-brow literature. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of terrific ideas and storytelling. The choice is mind bogglingly vast. From Philip K Dick to Dan Brown and Malcolm Gladwell to Stewart Lee.
3. WIDENING YOUR HORIZONS
A book can change your life, well at least a bit. My keenest non-fiction reading circles around psychology and Buddhism. Games People Play by Eric Berne changed the way I saw the world, albeit briefly. It offered an intriguing lens through which all relationships and interactions could be seen as Child, Adult or Parent moves in a game. It offered many other insights, among others that we have internal scripts running in our heads that we are largely unaware of.
Spending 10 minutes reading something uplifting from Eckhart Tolle to Charlotte Joko Beck can set you up for the day. It helps you to think differently, exposing you to new ideas and perspectives.
Empathy: what’s that got to do with books? Well, I’m glad you asked. Inhabiting another’s body, sharing a character’s adventures, suffering and joy can give you a taste of what it’s like to be someone else. A chance to get outside yourself. Not to be the centre of the universe for a moment. I don’t want to oversell it, but it can aid sympathetic understanding of others, even if it doesn’t turn you into the Dalai Lama.
From Hannibal Lecter to Emma Bovary you can experience the extremes of human diversity, inhabit evil or saintly characters and emerge better for it the other side.
Reading can be an education, a consolation, a spur to action or simply a very enjoyable way to spend time. Give it a try.
Growing Happy Recommendations
1. Non-fiction book: Games People Play by Eric Berne - give it a try now. Engaging style and very readable. Packed with insights into the way we humans treat each other. It explores the games and strategies we play in areas as diverse from romantic love to crime to therapy. It may change the way you see your relationships.
2. Fiction book: Shantaram
3. Tell us your favourite book below. Most featured book with be included in a future GROWTH BOX.