On a recent sweltering New England day at the beach, I found myself sitting with my favorite Pico Iyer book spread on my lap. As I looked around the crowded beach, I realized: No one was reading. Two women slept on the sand, tanning. A pair of teenaged girls flipped through their iPhones, checking Facebook status updates. A kid tapped at a game of Angry Birds on his father’s iPad.
In a world full of digital distractions and with local bookstores shuttering every day, it’s difficult to believe reading is worth one’s time. But new research suggests reading isn’t just good for your mental health, but also your waistline. Here are three reasons why you should fill your spare time with reading—in any form:
1. Reading expands your comfort with ambiguity.
Pacific Standard Magazine recently reported on a Canadian study that reading a literary short story expands your comfort with ambiguity. The story notes “people who have just read a short story have less need for what psychologists call ‘cognitive closure.’ Compared with peers who have just read an essay, they expressed more comfort with disorder and uncertainty—attitudes that allow for both sophisticated thinking and greater creativity.”
As an added benefit of reading, the researchers in the Canadian study write that “exposure to literature may offer a (way for people) to become more likely to open their minds.”
2. Reading is associated with lower body weight.
According to this study in Sociology of Health & Illness, despite being sedentary, cultural activities are actually associated with lower body weight, particularly in higher-income nations. Likewise, reading, widely considered a cultural activity (and quite a sedentary one—unless you’ve taken to a treadmill desk) can actually work wonders on your waistline. Who knew?
3. Reading promotes a growth mindset.
By exposing you to new places, ideas, and personalities, reading also has the ability to change your mindset. According to psychologist Carol Dweck, there are two mindsets in the world—fixed and growth.
Fixed mindsets, as Dweck writes in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, believe their qualities are set in stone: I am smart. I am stupid. I am beautiful. I am a failure. They live life constantly proving this belief, not disproving it nor building any possibility for change in their intelligence, abilities, or talents.
A growth mindset, on the other hand, accepts inevitable failures and challenges. Those with growth mindsets believe intelligence isn’t set at birth, but something cultivated and improved over time. People with a growth mindset seek uncomfortable or unusual experiences.
Dweck says, “Mindset change is not about picking up a few pointers here and there. It’s about seeing things in a new way.”
Reading is one of the best ways to see the world in a new way. It isn’t much unlike traveling. As the Pico Iyer book I read on the beach attests: “Confronted by the foreign, we grow newly attentive to the details of the world, even as we make out, sometimes, the larger outline that lies behind them.”
Curious which mindset you hold? Take this brief quiz to find out.
Unsure where to find great content? Check out new startup Hippo Reads, where experts suggest the best reading across various topics in an interesting blend of fiction and nonfiction. Another spot for curated literature is the app Storyville where a selection of short stories challenge your ‘cognitive closure.’