“Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation.”
— David Lewis, cognitive neuropsychologist
For me, one of life’s greatest pleasures is to lose myself in a good book. It’s funny, though, how sometimes we don’t prioritize the things that bring us the most pleasure.
For many years, I favored reading magazines over books. Particularly when I was nursing my first son, it was so easy to pick up a magazine, read for a few minutes and then set it aside.
Then I found myself picking up the same magazines over and over again, sometimes rereading the same pages and articles, because I couldn’t remember where I’d left off and what I’d already read.
Soon I had a growing pile of half-read magazines. I’d get frustrated every time I saw that stack because I didn’t want old magazines lying around, but I also didn’t want to throw away copies before I’d completely finished reading them or had clipped out recipes or articles I wanted to keep.
The content wasn’t doing me any good either: My mind was filled with all these things to try, things to buy, unimportant things that were going on, but nothing really stuck. It was just fluffy, easy reading, which is what I thought I wanted as a harried new mother.
But it didn’t move me, thrill me or make me laugh like a good book can.
Eventually I decided enough of this; I was going to stop grabbing magazines at the grocery store and instead start reading books, something I loved to do but never felt I had the time for.
Once I replaced magazines with novels, I was amazed at how much more I looked forward to the time I spent nursing. Whereas before it was annoying to have to drop everything whenever the baby cried, now I gladly welcomed the opportunity to escape for a few minutes into my book.
It also created a positive association with nurturing my son and nurturing myself.
This isn’t surprising. A study from the University of Sussex concluded that reading books is the ultimate stress reducer, even better at helping us relax than listening to music, going for walks, or drinking a cup of tea or coffee. Even six minutes of silent reading reduces our pulse rates, relaxes our muscles and can reduce stress levels by 68 percent, according to Dr. David Lewis, who led the study.
Victor Nell, a researcher from the University of South Africa in Pretoria, likens the effect of reading on adults to the feeling children have when playing because reading for pleasure is something we choose to do that has nothing to do with daily life and duties, and thereby has no purpose or goal.
But it is exactly this seeming frivolousness that makes it so crucial for us to read for pleasure. We really are able to escape from everyday problems with a good book and reap the benefits of reading, which, in addition to relaxation, include keeping our minds sharp and giving us better focus, increased empathy and improved memory.
After choosing books over magazines without a backward glance, I realized that reading books, as with many important things in life, needs to be a conscious decision. You have to chose to make time for it.
Now I try to read every night before bed and carry my Kindle around with me so I can sneak in reading time: on public transportation, when I get stuck in a line somewhere, when I have a few minutes before an appointment, or when I’m at the park with the kids.
Becoming a reader again also gave me the same epiphany I had as a book-loving child: I want to make people feel as much as I do when I read a good book; I want to write fiction.
I’m happy to say, I’m now reading more than ever before, I have a few short stories under my belt, and I’ll publish my first novel this year.