Monday, 15 June 2015

Can Reading Make You Happier?

Through 'Pocket' I found this interesting article in The New Yorker by Ceridwen Dovey. There he explains how he several years ago, received a gift from friends. The gift was a remote session with a bibliotherapist. Personally, I have never heard of such therapists, but obviously they exist. This specific therapist works at the London headquarters of the School of Life, “which offers innovative courses to help people deal with the daily emotional challenges of existence.” He was rather doubtful about the good of it all, but since it was a gift he tried it out.

Monastery library in Valldemossa, Mallorca
He received a questionnaire about his reading habits, from bibliotherapist, Ella Berthoud. Never before had anyone asked him about his reading habits and he was quite happy to fill in the form. One question was “What is preoccupying you at the moment?”. His answer was that he did not know how to cope with grief if he was losing somebody. This started an exchange of e-mail to find out more of his wishes, and in the end, Ella Berthoud came up with a list that she suggested he read.


“Among the recommendations was “The Guide,” by R. K. Narayan. Berthoud wrote that it was “a lovely story about a man who starts his working life as a tourist guide at a train station in Malgudi, India, but then goes through many other occupations before finding his unexpected destiny as a spiritual guide.” She had picked it because she hoped it might leave me feeling “strangely enlightened.” Another was “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ,” by José Saramago: “Saramago doesn’t reveal his own spiritual stance here but portrays a vivid and compelling version of the story we know so well.” “Henderson the Rain King,” by Saul Bellow, and “Siddhartha,” by Hermann Hesse, were among other prescribed works of fiction, and she included some nonfiction, too, such as “The Case for God,” by Karen Armstrong, and “Sum,” by the neuroscientist David Eagleman, a “short and wonderful book about possible afterlives.””

Over the years he read the books on the list and reflected on the messages. Although he was lucky not yet to face the grief of losing someone close, the insight he had picked up from the books helped him, when at a time, he endured physical pain. His conclusion is that:

“The insights themselves are still nebulous, as learning gained through reading fiction often is—but therein lies its power. In a secular age, I suspect that reading fiction is one of the few remaining paths to transcendence, that elusive state in which the distance between the self and the universe shrinks. Reading fiction makes me lose all sense of self, but at the same time makes me feel most uniquely myself. As Woolf, the most fervent of readers, wrote, a book “splits us into two parts as we read,” for “the state of reading consists in the complete elimination of the ego,” while promising “perpetual union” with another mind.”

Very interesting article which you can read in full on the link to The New Yorker above. I think books can be very inspiring, and I have read many books that is a comfort in times of trouble. Not only non-fiction book about a certain ‘matters’, but also reading fiction can sometimes be very encouraging I find. I would not mind enrolling a bibliotherapist myself.

Check up the website of School of Life. I found interesting courses and books and this video explains why we need books. It’s great.



What do you think? Do you agree that reading makes you happier? Is this something that you would like to do?

3 comments:

  1. Interesting. I wonder if I am almost a bibliotherapist? I'm a school librarian and I do a lot of recommending.

    readerbuzz.blogspot.com

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    1. I am sure you are! I find librarians are very skilled when it comes to recommend books that you want to read. They seem to have a never ending knowledge of a lot of different literature. Keep up the good work. It is even more important for a school librarian considering the reluctance of young people to read good books.

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    2. I am sure you are! I find librarians are very skilled when it comes to recommend books that you want to read. They seem to have a never ending knowledge of a lot of different literature. Keep up the good work. It is even more important for a school librarian considering the reluctance of young people to read good books.

      Delete