As a tween, I loved the Nancy Drew Mystery Series. I wanted to be like Nancy Drew. She had such a good head on her shoulders, even though she was constantly facing danger and never quite “hooking” Ned, the handsome guy whom the wealthy beautiful Helen was always throwing herself upon.
Through those characters, I was able to gain insight into the types of people I encountered in my daily life – character types – good, bad, selfish and unselfish, etc. This series probably began my love affair with books that continues today.
In high school, of course, we read all of the classics – To Kill a Mockingbird, Romeo and Juliet, The Grapes of Wrath, Moby Dick, Hamlet, The Glass Menagerie, Crime and Punishment, The Great Gatsby, A Tale of Two Cities, and more.
Why Reading Enhances Personal Development
I don’t remember ever not liking a book we were reading. That continued in college too. And as an adult, the love affair continues, although some non-fiction is added to the list now and then.
But fiction is the great teacher – contributing to our own personal development in at least the 10 following ways:
1) Insight into Human Nature
We meet every possible personality through reading, and we gain understanding of what motivates the behaviors of people.
We can study the characters that appear on those pages, watch them as they react and respond to one another, deal with conflict, and expose their strengths and weaknesses. We gain perspective on such things as unselfishness, greed, ambition, egoism – the types of personality traits we encounter in real life.
Through analyzing these characters in literature, I have developed better methods of dealing with people in my world.
One of the great things about literature is that the main character always has a conflict and problems to solve.
How those problems are solved, and the process that is used, gives us great training on solving problems (often how not to solve them) with which we are faced in life.
Of course, Romeo and Juliet did not solve their problems well, and we learn from this play the dangers of impulsivity – a good lesson for teenagers. Avid readers come to learn how to avoid the mistakes that fictional characters often make.
As we age, many of us lose the imagination that so entertained us when we were children.
When we are taken to new places and meet unique people, our imaginations are stimulated. We place ourselves in those surroundings and imagine what they must be like. Science fiction does that for me, as do historical novels such as A Tale of Two Cities.
James Michener was a master at stimulating the imaginations of his readers – we are able to put ourselves there, geographically and historically, as his saga unfold. Nurturing our imaginations allows new ideas and divergent thinking.
4) Vocabulary and Language Skills
Avid readers have much larger vocabularies than those who avoid the past-time. And the reading of good books provides models of good language and writing. Research shows that the language development, both oral and written, that is fostered from reading books, results in better learning all around.
Adults who have read a lot and who continue to read are able to grasp complex written material far easier, and they are better writers overall. These are career skills which are difficult to learn later in life.
5) Relief from Stress/Escape
The mental and physical effects of stress are well documented. To relive stress, we engage in a number of activities – physical exercise, meditation, and, yes, reading. Studies have shown that blood pressure is reduce during the act of reading.
And reading allows us to focus on something other than our stressors and problems. A good storyline carries us away to another place – a much healthier form of escape than alcohol or drugs.
6) Readers Develop Empathy and Tolerance
Empathy is the ability to place yourself “into the shoes” of another and see a problem, a circumstance, and a behavior from their perspective.
As we do this in our reading, so it transfers over to real life. We learn to be less judgmental of others, understanding that we have not had the experiences that have formed their personalities.
7) Readers are More Interesting People
The exposure to history, politics, the law, and unusual places, becomes a store of knowledge that we hold in our memories.
This knowledge base allows us to converse on a variety of topics, both socially and professionally. People with large bases of general knowledge are more highly valued in the professional world.
8) Readers Gain a larger Perspective
Ignorance of other cultures, religions, and ethnicities fosters hostility and fear. Knowledge and understanding of all of these fosters communication, acceptance and tolerance.
Given the global perspective which all of us must develop, reading is the next best thing to actual experience. And when we do face actual experiences with cultures, belief systems and other ethnicities, we have the understanding to establish solid and mutually respectful relationships.
9) Readers See Cause/Effect Relationships
Seeing cause-effect relationships is a critical thinking skill that is highly valued. Through fiction, we are able to see how choices that people make have an impact not only on themselves but on others around them and sometimes on society as a whole.
Readers come to understand the need to consider all of the possible effects when hard choices need to be made.
10) Readers Have Important “Alone Time”
The world is a busy place. We spend our days surrounded by others, inundated with stimuli that bombard our senses and our minds. Sometimes, it is difficult to shut down all of that stimulation and get the rest we need.
When we read, especially at the end of the day, our worlds becomes quiet. Our brains begins to settle down and prepare us for rest. Readers have a much easier time falling asleep at night – who doesn’t need a good night’s sleep?
The benefits of reading cannot be over-stated.
They are intellectual, psychological, and healthy. But even more than that, reading takes to places in our minds that we would never go otherwise. Read on!