Surprising Benefits From Reading Fiction
Besides having better verbal abilities, lifelong readers are known to be more understanding of others, more empathetic, less prejudiced, to attain higher socioeconomic status and even to live longer, healthier lives than non-readers. Reading fiction has additional benefits.
Reading fiction enhances creativity. A study by Maja Djikic and colleagues published in Creativity Research Journal asked students to read either a short fictional story or a nonfiction essay and then measured their emotional need for certainty and stability. The researchers discovered that the fiction readers had less need for "cognitive closure than those who read non-fiction," and added: "These findings suggest that reading fictional literature could lead to better procedures of processing information generally, including those of creativity."
Reading fiction can extend your life. Researcher Avi Bivishi and colleagues, writing in the journal Social Science and Medicine, reported reading a book for 30 minutes every day forecasts a sharper, healthier mind, which predicted a 20% lower odds of dying about a decade later.
Reading a novel can improve brain functioning. A study on the brain benefits of reading fiction was conducted at Emory University titled, "Short- and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain," was recently published in the journal Brain Connectivity. The researchers found that becoming engrossed in a novel enhances connectivity in the brain and improves brain function.
Reading fiction helps you become more inclusive, tolerant and open-minded. A study by Loris Vezzali and colleagues published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, had tested whether the novels of Harry Potter could be used for improving tolerance. The researchers conducted three experiments in which they had participants read passages from fiction books about discrimination. After, the researchers reported, the participants showed changed attitudes about everything from immigrants to gay students. The researchers concluded that young children, with the help of a teacher, "were able to understand that Harry's frequent support of ‘mudbloods' was an allegory towards bigotry in real-life society."
Reading fiction makes you happier. A survey of 1,500 adult readers in the UK found that 76% of them said reading improves their life and helps to make them feel good. Other finds of the survey are that those who read books regularly are on average more satisfied with life, happier, and more likely to feel that the things they do in life are worthwhile.
Reading fiction improves peoples' altruism and generosity. A study by D.R. Johnson and colleagues, published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, found those people who regularly read fiction were more likely to be prosocial and help others in need.
Fiction readers tend to be less biased toward other cultures and races. Another study by Dan R. Johnson and colleagues, published in Basic and Social Psychology, concluded that those people who regularly read fiction about other cultures and ethnic groups lessened their racial stereotypes and biases. (Thanks to Ray Williams)
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Why It Feels Good To Give
A growing body of research has revealed numerous psychological and physiological benefits of giving, challenging common conceptions about the relationship between money and happiness. In 2008, for example, Michael Norton, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and his colleagues conducted a study where they gave $5 or $20 to people and then instructed them to spend it either on themselves or someone else. Later that evening, the researchers checked in with the participants to see how they felt emotionally. The group that gave money to others reported feeling happier over the course of the day. What's more, the results showed no emotional difference between people who received $5 and those who got $20.
In another part of the study, the researchers described this experiment to a separate group of participants and asked them to predict which group would feel happier. They got it wrong, suggesting that "people's daily spending choices may be guided by flawed intuitions about the relationship between money and happiness," wrote Norton and colleagues in a paper describing the study.
Other research has shown that volunteering boosts health. Elderly people who volunteer are 44 percent less likely to die over a 5-year period than those who don't. Volunteering seems to be intrinsically rewarding: other research has explored whether its benefits could be explained by other factors, such as the possibility that people who volunteer are naturally happier or healthier. The results found that volunteering boosts well-being no matter one's baseline.
Giving produces a "warm glow." Literally. Research has shown that prosocial behavior can cause body temperature to rise. More broadly, warm-glow giving describes a phenomenon where people feel pleasure when they spend money on others. Originally introduced as an economic model that framed giving as a good but selfish act, the phenomenon has since been studied by scientists, who generally agree that giving releases feel-good neurochemicals like oxytocin and endorphins. The "helper's high" is a similar concept.
The exact neural processes that underlie the benefits of giving remain unclear. But a 2006 fMRI study provided some of the first hard evidence showing that giving involves a complex interplay between several brain regions, including the mesolimbic reward system and the decision-making prefrontal cortex. The researchers wrote that "human altruism draws on general mammalian neural systems of reward, social attachment, and aversion."
Giving may alleviate depression. It's hard, if not counterproductive, to ease depression by focusing on the self, research suggests. Giving shifts focus toward the needs of others. Studies have found that volunteers are less likely to be depressed and that engaging in compassionate acts can have long-lasting protective effects against depression.
The benefits of giving seem to be universal. A 2013 study found a positive relationship between giving and happiness in 120 out of 136 countries, after controlling for income and other variables. The relationship was strong in a majority of those nations. What's more, the benefits were observed even among people who struggle financially. (Thanks to Stephen Johnson)
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Can Pollyannas Be Realists?
Researchers at the University of Vermont wanted to test the Pollyanna Hypothesis, the idea that there is a universal human tendency to look on the bright side of life. To test it, they asked the native speakers of ten different languages to rate individual words on a 9-point scale. Nine equaled broad-smiley face, while one was for deep-frowny face. For example, among English speakers, "laugher" rated a happy 8.5, "the" a neutral 4.98, and "terrorist" a depressing 1.3. The researchers then gathered a data set containing billions of words from 24 sources in those languages, from books to tweets, websites to music lyrics, and, of course, news stories.
An analysis of the data showed that humans typically use language to imbue a, in the researcher's words, "usage-invariant positivity bias." Every one of their 24 sources rated above the neutral score of five across all ten languages. Though it's certainly not true of all songs or novels, the researchers found that overall humanity "use[s] more happy words than sad words." Counterintuitive as it sounds, Twitter really is a gathering of the Pollyannas.
One study compared people's financial expectations in life with their ultimate outcomes over 18 years. They found that participants who set realistic expectations based on accurate assessments of their situations had higher well-being than those who set unrealistic expectations based on overly positive attitudes. Crucially, realists had a higher well-being score than pessimists, too.
"I think for many people, research that shows you don't have to spend your days striving to think positively might come as a relief. We see that being realistic about your future and making sound decisions based on evidence can bring a sense of well-being, without having to immerse yourself in relentless positivity," Chris Dawson, study author and associate professor of business economics at Bath University, said in a release.
Positivity must also be measured against a realistic accounting of our emotions. Sometimes, life just sucks. It isn't fair. We lose the people we love, our hard work goes under-appreciated, and we struggle to traverse the paths that others seem to bypass. Rather than ignore these parts of our life, David suggests that we should accept them.
"Difficult experiences are part of life. They are part of life's contract with the world. They're part of our contract with the world simply by virtue of being here," David told Big Think during an interview. "It is really important that as human beings, we develop our capacity to deal with our thoughts and emotions in a way that isn't a struggle, in a way that embraces them and is with them and is able to learn from them."
Positive realists don't ignore life's hardships and challenges, nor do they let the negativity bias worsen such struggles. They approach both rationally and with measured expectations. When remembering a year or period in their lives, they may also choose to treasure its positive qualities. And after a year like 2020, we can all be forgiven if, in 2021, we err on the brighter side of life.
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Health & Healing Hack of the Week
Regardless of your writing ability, the process of writing down one's thoughts is an age-old, tried and true way of self inquiry. Often, you'll find yourself revealing a deep truth about life, a sub-conscious pattern or other conundrum by simply writing about it. Many proponents of this method insist that the best way to write is by hand with a pen or pencil--believing that the physical motions in some way amplify the psychological powers engaged in attempting to language our thoughts. I do not hold this belief myself, and prefer to type, and sometimes read what I typed out loud, even recording it a la podcast, and listening to it back. The mechanism at work here is "mirroring". By mirroring our thoughts "out in the physical world", it allows us to perceive our awarenesses and conclusions from a different angle, or perspective, thus giving us insights we would not necessarily have otherwise. The process of self-mirroring is really another way of Two Pointing, with one point being what is happening in the imagination, and the other point being the written version of it. Journaling is especially effective when there is a confusion of energies, or there is something about what you are experiencing that is a problem, conundrum or conflict. Write all about the different aspects of your feelings about the subject, and you are sure to come to some new awarenesses about the situation. -- From 25 No Cost Health & Healing Hacks by Boyd Martin)
Quantum Healer of the Week
I am a healer who helps curious and open-minded people experience more vitality, heart connection and spiritual awareness. As your partner, I witness and encourage you to go beyond your circumstances and your story, so you can enjoy a more authentic and happier life. As an intuitive, compassionate and highly trained healer with a myriad of modalities, I am able to perceive the seen and unseen aspects of the healing process, allowing me to unravel the complex elements of the healing puzzle. I help you align with your greatest potential and illuminate your most brilliant self. Healing on all levels comes as your vital essence is revealed and old patterns are released. Working together to help you expand into your greater wholeness and vitality is my passion. I love working with people who are on a spiritual path and are willing to take a deep dive in search of the jewels inside themselves. For me, healing work is a Divinely inspired and co-creative process that enables the client to feel lighter, more expanded and connected to their purpose. l am amazed and excited by the magic that transpires. It is enormously satisfying to know that the support I provide helps others find more meaning and purpose in their lives. WEBSITE
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