Getting lost in an enjoyable book could make you more empathetic
“I believe that stories are incredibly important, possibly in ways we don't understand, in allowing us to make sense of our lives, in allowing us to escape our lives, in giving us empathy and in creating the world that we live in.” ~ Neil Gaiman, author
Empathy* may be the most important skill you can practice, leading to better success both personally and professionally. Empathy can even help you become happier.
To be truly empathetic, you should not only understand how others feel and show empathy, but also know the words to express the way you feel. Reading increases your "emotional intelligence" vocabulary.
Losing yourself in a work of fiction might actually increase your empathy. Studies have shown that people who read fiction are more empathetic and able to judge people and social situations than people who read only non-fiction. Researchers** in the Netherlands documented that people who were "emotionally transported" by a work of fiction experienced boosts in empathy. Interestingly, no such empathy boost was found in people who read only non-fiction.
Another study published in the Journal of Research in Personality*** found that people who read narrative fiction often have improved social abilities, while for those who read non-fiction, the opposite holds true.
The researchers developed two theories to explain why reading fiction may be good for social skills. One hypothesizes that it exposes people to examples of the way people behave socially. Another postulates that fiction readers practice inferring people's intentions and closely watch their relationships. To have emotional intelligence you should not only understand how others feel and show empathy, but also know how to express the way you feel.
Increased empathy helps you better understand the needs of people around you. You’ll find it easier to deal with the negativity of others. You’ll better understand others' motivations and fears. You’ll be a better friend.
So feel free to read that science fiction novel or other books you thought were just guilty pleasures. Let yourself get engrossed in a gripping story or a character -- it's good for you!
Humans aren't as good as we should be in our capacity to empathize with feelings and thoughts of others, be they humans or other animals on Earth. So maybe part of our formal education should be training in empathy. Imagine how different the world would be if, in fact, that were 'reading, writing, arithmetic, empathy.' ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author
* Empathy: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner. Merriam Webster
** Bal, P. M., & Veltkamp, M. (2013). How Does Fiction Reading Influence Empathy? An Experimental Investigation on the Role of Emotional Transportation. PLoS ONE
*** Mar, R. A., Oatley, K., Hirsh, J., dela Paz, J., & Peterson, J. B. (2006). Bookworms versus nerds: Exposure to fiction versus non-fiction, divergent associations with social ability, and the simulation of fictional social worlds. Journal of Research in Personality
To be a true empath you must know that for every level of grief there is a tier of joy.
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