According to a survey conducted by an independent publisher, Jenkins group, reading regularly after finishing school has dropped drastically. Over thirty percent of high school graduates never read a book for the rest of their lives, and 42% of college graduates never read a book after college. The survey also found that 80% of American families did not buy or read a book in the year that the survey was conducted. Of course, it makes sense. Only a generation or two ago, reading was the most common form of passive entertainment before the rise of popularity in television, video games, and the Internet. Still, while many of us may have hated reading in school, simply because it was foisted on us involuntarily, there are many reasons for picking up a book during your down time. Here are a few.
- Increased Ability to Empathize with Others. According to one series of studies, regularly reading fiction increases your ability to understand social situations with greater depth. It makes you more able to empathize with individuals who are very different from you.
- Improved writing and general communication skills, two key job skills. One of the key job skills that employers have most recently lamented as deficient among new hires is their inability to communicate proficiently in writing. While you don’t have to be a William Shakespeare to get a job these days, it definitely helps to be able to write clearly and concisely. And there are only two ways to substantively improve your writing skills: by reading and writing.
- Improved Memory and Concentration. An article in Oprah Magazine quotes a few scientists who’ve studied the effects of reading on the brain. Compared to other forms of media like television, reading demands much more from the brain since the act of reading requires several parts of the brain to work in unison to decode information in print. In other words, reading is the most vigorous form of mental exercise. Doing so regularly improves your ability to focus, learn, and retain information.
- Increased Engagement Civically, Culturally, and Physically. The National Endowment for the Arts conducted their own survey of the state of American literacy in 2007. The study looked at several different ways in which reading influences our lives. The study found regular, “literary” readers are much more likely to vote, to attend cultural events, volunteer, and are even more likely to exercise as well.
If you aren’t entirely convinced that reading can improve your quality of life, pick up a book any book– and see how relaxing it can be. Unlike the Internet, filled with pop-up ads and other bells and whistles demanding short bursts of attention, reading grabs our attention in a completely different way: it requires a sustained, contemplative effort that helps us gain a greater understanding of ourselves and the world around us. What could be a better way of spending an evening?