When I was a kid, I only read fiction. Harry Potter. The Bartimaeus Sequence. The Inheritance Series. I thought non-fiction was boring and useless. I remember complaining to a classmate at my school library about why there was such a large non-fiction section. What kind of person reads a 500 page book on history for fun?
A few years later, I was introduced to the idea that non-fiction held the secrets to succeeding in every area of life. Will Smith said in an interview that for every problem that needs to be solved, someone has already written a book on it. Warren Buffett introduced to me the idea that not all non-fiction books were as boring as they made it in the classroom.
(Maybe Will is being a little enthusiastic with his statement but that got me interested.)
But after reading hundreds of “How To” books on improving every topic under the sun (nutrition, longevity, wealth, focus, social skills, and so on), I got slightly burnt out on non-fiction. I heard Charlie Hoehn and Nils Parker of the Mating Grounds podcast talk about how reading fiction helps you connect the dots of non-fiction, give your brain a break, and spur creativity.
I was interested to get back into fiction given that I realized I hadn’t read a fiction book in years and it seemed like a great way to escape having to think about logical concepts all the time. Here’s why you should read fiction.
1. You Live A Hundred Lives of Fantasy
People say this about non-fiction because you gain a lot of wisdom and perspective from real people’s biographies, especially if they lived much different lives than you. But it’s also true for fiction. The difference is that for fiction, these people don’t actually exist and their lives are even crazier and more fantastical.
Humans are wired to marvel at great storytelling and it is at its finest and most unleashed in the realm of fiction. You are transported to universes and situations with creatures and personalities you would have never dreamed of. With a great book, you can’t help but feel amazed at how incredible a character is.
Remember the first time you experienced Captain Jack Sparrow’s personality? Well, there are even more awesome personalities in books, like Bartimaeus, for instance.
Fiction lets you turn your brain off, relax, and get entertained.
You get your pick of a culmination of thousands of years of trial and error to create the most epic story imaginable.
When I first started reading fiction again, I started getting flashbacks to all the jaw-dropping stories I read as a child that I forgot about. Those were good times.
2. You Give Your Brain A Well-Deserved Break From Burn out (And Something Magic Happens…)
A recipe for burn out is to stuff every second of your day with something for your brain to think about, especially if it becomes a chore rather than something fun.
That’s exactly what I’ve done in the past because I thought it was “productive.”
Unfortunately, I’ve found myself feeling resentment, jealousy, and frustration when I overhear peers talking about spending their time watching Netflix, reading a good book, or just relaxing.
Fiction gives you the luxury you need. It helps you unplug. It lets your brain completely unwind. It eases you into a good sleep. And the most beautiful part?
It’s in this eased state that our subconscious takes over and solves the problems that we couldn’t solve with our full focus and all the non-fiction reading in the world. There’s a reason why our best ideas happen in the shower.
3. Your Emotional and Social Intelligence Increase
Plenty of books and articles have been written about how IQ is overrated and how emotional and social intelligence are key to wealth and high status in real life.
What’s shocking is that five scientific studies published in Science found that children who read literary fiction had greater levels of ability to infer and understand people’s emotions and thoughts.
It’s important to note that it was also found that your fiction books have to be literary fiction. Popular fiction had no effect. This may be because literary fiction is more realistic and has more mysterious characters that force you to come up with their motives.
If you’re struggling with your communication skills in your career or dating life, literary fiction may be a great stepping stone. The right book will improve your empathy and understanding of others — it will teach you see another’s values and drives, even if you don’t agree with them.
4. It Makes You A Better Reader, Writer, and Person
We’ve all heard people say that watching TV or being on social media too long rots the brain. Maybe it’s because you are sitting there and letting a screen bombard you with addictive, mind-numbing noises, pictures, and advertisements.
Music, on the other hand, doesn’t quite hit the mark either. It can lift your mood and spirits. But it usually doesn’t leave you that much better off, unless you’re a professional musician.
Educational podcasts may be the next best thing to reading since they fill in so much wasted time in a day and leave you smarter.
But reading can make you a better and faster reader and writer. Even if you don’t think you’re a writer, chances are that you type and write more than you realize on a daily basis. We’re all writers and the different ways we choose to present our words can make a huge difference to our lives over time.
This happens more often when you pick up an actual book (or Kindle or iPad) and actually read the text. Audio books are great and I prefer them, but reading actual words on paper (or a screen) will really help you see how sentences are put together and how effective language is delivered.
Put simply: Reading fiction is a great way to come out a better person in the most unexpected of ways. Just the fact you know certain references to popular fiction books will make you a better conversationalist, connect with more people, and a wiser person.
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