Rule 4: Make Time for Reading

This is Rule 4 in the 5 Practices for Simple Living. You need to make time for reading.

At first glance this seems as if it would be an activity that overlaps with Rule 1, cultivating silence. It does, because it’s certainly easier to read when your surroundings are quiet and free from distractions. Reading can also fall under Rule 2 for similar reasons. There are elements of concentration and even introspection that are similar to meditation practices. There are other benefits, however, that make daily reading worth calling out as its own practice.

I want to clarify here that I’m talking about reading a book, a magazine, or a newspaper. Social media posts and listicles don’t count. While I do a lot of reading on a tablet, for this practice I try to move away from screens. I tend to have multiple books going at once, but at least one will be a dead tree object that I’ve purchased, borrowed, or taken out of the library.

Reading a book is mental stimulation. It’s not passive, like watching television. There are studies showing that a reading habit might help stave off Alzheimer’s and dementia. It can help deepen empathy and compassion, because you need to be able to envision the lives and feelings of other people, in other places, leading lives that are different from your own. This is why even reading fiction is beneficial.

Reading helps develop critical thinking. There is a whole range of analytical skills that are honed by picking up a book every day. It requires both observation and inference to visualize and contextualize what you’re reading about. That’s on top of the knowledge you acquire, assuming you’re reading something that’s credible and has been fact-checked by a reputable publisher.

Reading helps with managing mental health. There are studies that show that a reading habit helps with depression and other mood disorders. It can help reduce stress, which makes sense because of the meditative elements to sitting quietly absorbed in a book. You get a reprieve from the immediate, the ability to detach from work, relationships, and other responsibilities.

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