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Is Reading Productive?

Reading is beneficial in all forms, here’s why.


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Violet Daniels

3 years ago | 4 min read

Most of us are obsessed with productivity and ensuring that we squeeze something valuable out of every activity.

The pressures and mental strain that come with forcing ourselves to be productive are ultimately draining and counterintuitive. ‘Productivity culture’ has taken a bashing during the pandemic, as we all try to grapple with trying to stay sane during the empty days.

There are benefits to being productive, but I worry the obsession over it is putting too much strain on our mental health. Because of this, we tend to even judge our leisure time by how much we get out of it.

Reading as a form of entertainment is in the same category as watching TV or gaming. We often don’t judge the latter forms of leisure harshly,

however, with reading, there seems to be this rhetoric that suggests that it’s a luxury activity, and escaping into other worlds isn’t productive enough. Despite what you may or may not think, couldn’t the same be said for watching TV or gaming?

Often, when I ask people why they don’t read, they say they don’t have enough time. And they are partly right, we live in a busy world and having a 9–5 can leave many of us exhausted after a long day. It’s far easier and less draining to switch on the TV than read a book.

That being said, if you want to read — you do make time for it.

Reading fiction may naturally be a form of escapism — but it can also be productive. Reading non-fiction is traditionally seen as more productive, due to its natural provision of knowledge. But, fiction also has benefits as it increases our emotional intelligence and overall creativity.

So, is reading ultimately productive?

Reading Can Improve Mental Health

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Reading fiction is productive — period.

And it can also improve your mental health, by engaging in the struggles of others. Books told through the first person and heavily featuring character studies, forces us to relate and understand the experiences of others.

From reading fiction, we are more likely to feel empathy and this can be encouraged in our own lives, outside of fictional worlds.

Fiction opens up our minds to other cultures and societies across the world and puts the experience of others at the forefront. This is not only a form of escapism and mental retreat for the reader but an exercise in strengthening empathy and understanding.

Reading in all forms can make you feel more relaxed. Just like switching off with a good show, studies have shown that reading may reduce the stress hormone, cortisol, in your body, making your mind feel more at ease. Meaning, you’ll probably get a better nights sleep and wake up feeling more refreshed the next day.

Time away from the screens is ultimately a good thing for our mental and physical health — and reading a book is one way of doing this. Reading in all forms can make us feel better mentally, as we put ourselves in the shoes of others.

Reading Can Give You Knowledge

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This is the obvious one, and can often be a motivating factor. But despite associations between this and reading non-fiction, I would argue that fiction equally gives us the same amount of knowledge, but in different ways.

Reading fiction gives us social awareness and intelligence, through reading about other people’s experiences and how they perceive things.

A story told through a first-person narration will often feature inner monologues, exposing the reader to their in-depth thought process.

Through this, we can learn about how other people think and will gain a greater awareness of the importance of empathy, kindness and consideration.

The short of it — reading fiction can make us better humans.

Fiction can also teach us how to write. If you want to be a great writer, reading is a pretty good place to start. Subconsciously or consciously, as you read, you are absorbing grammar patterns and new words that can be transferred into your writing.

Non-fiction is traditionally seen as a superior genre when it comes to gaining knowledge. Indeed, in being solely fact-based, it naturally gives any reader knowledge at first glance. Whether that be in the form of history, self-help, science, or books about the natural world.

Because of this strong association, reading non-fiction is widely seen as the more productive and beneficial version of reading — however, both are of equal value.

Reading Can Improve Your Physical Health and Longevity

Now, we don’t know this for sure but reading anything naturally exercises the brain and causes us to think. For people approaching old age, reading regularly is a good exercise of our cognitive functions and will keep your mind engaged.

Based on MRI research, scientists have observed that reading produces different patterns in the brain which can increase it’s overall interconnectivity, even after finishing.

Therefore, it is possible that reading is an exercise in our physical minds as well as being able to improve our mental capacity and overall health.

Although there are no direct links between reading and lessening our chances of developing Alzheimer’s or Dementia, reading is a mental exercise and is a good thing to do to keep your mind engaged as you get older.

So, if we want to evaluate our leisure activities in terms of productivity, then reading in any form is ultimately productive due to its mental and physical benefits.

However, reading doesn’t always have to be beneficial. Just like switching off whilst browsing social media, or watching a YouTube video, it can simply be a form of escapism from our busy lives — and that’s okay too.

But, reading is less about what you read and the knowledge you maintain, but how it makes you feel — that’s where the real benefits are.

That being said, we should view all genres as equal in their potential to pass on knowledge. Knowledge is not just about facts, figures, and historical events, but emotional intelligence and how to live as better beings.

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