It's Official: Reading Makes You Happy

Crack open a book to crack a smile.

July 28, 2014
reading makes you happy
PHOTOGRAPH BY THINKSTOCK

Whether you're curling up under the covers or lounging poolside, it's always a good time to read. While they say money can't buy happiness, new research published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology suggests that buying a book is pretty close.

Mary Ann Naples, publisher at Rodale Books, has known for a long time that a book is an excellent path to happiness. "What stood out to me about this study was just how amazing it is to have data to back up what we already knew was the truth—that books are life-enhancing," says Naples. 

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Previous studies have found that people are happier when they spend their money on experiences ("to-do" purchases, such as seeing a show or going out to dinner) than when they buy material goods ("to-have purchases" like a new purse or a lamp). Now, researchers have discovered a middle ground between these purchases: the experiential product. That's a material item that creates an experience when it's used. The authors labeled this a "to have in order to do" purchase. 

"I think it's interesting that the researchers call them 'experiential products,'" says Naples, "because yes, they're a product, but if you buy a book and bring it into your life and it causes you to think in a different way, then your life is changed."

Naples explains, saying, "If you get a new pair of earrings, you feel good because you put them on in the morning and you look nice, but I think when you read a book—it could be a psychology book, a health book, a business book, or even a great novel—that brings you new ideas in your life and gives you new things to think about."

Interestingly, life experiences and experiential purchases make us happy through different mechanisms. The researchers found that life experiences make us happy by fulfilling the psychological need of "relatedness," or the interconnection between people. Experiential products, however, make us happy by fulfilling our competence need. The researchers explain that using existing or gaining new skills or knowledge satisfies competence.

"They are essentially two different routes to the same well-being," said Ryan Howell, PhD, from San Francisco State University in a press release. "If you're not feeling very competent, the best way to alleviate that deprivation would be through the use of experiential products.

Naples compared books to other experiential products, such as musical instruments and sporting goods, realizing that the connection between books and competency needs are clear. "I realized that the kinds of books the researchers are talking about are the kinds of books you pursue because of an area of interest. For instance, I read a lot of business books, and it helps me actually do better in my daily life," says Naples.

Check out these four books sitting on Naples' bookshelf:

Wheat Belly by William Davis, MD
"I remember when I read Wheat Belly—before I was even in publishing—it changed the way I saw how we ate," she says. "I realized that there are forces manipulating our food sources that we're not even aware of."

She adds: "They shape what we eat, and that may not be healthy for us. It caused me to see everything about how we eat in a different way." Naples is also looking forward to his follow-up, Wheat Belly, Total Health, because it broadens the message of how we think about grains.

More from Rodale News: 7 Surprising Reasons to Give Up Wheat

Linchpin by Seth Godin
"When I think about what's an experiential book, this book is one that makes you think about your place in the world and how you can make a difference, no matter where you are in your job."

The Bulletproof Diet by Dave Asprey
Naples has the perk of experiencing books before they're out, and she's used herself as a guinea pig for this book. "Obviously, everything about how I'm doing things has been changed by The Bulletproof Diet. How mind-boggling that we should be eating more fats in our diets! I've lost eight pounds and I don't want to eat sugar in the afternoon, and I've never had that experience before. Learning about how he took computer-hacking principles and applied them to biology and to our health, makes so much sense and it helps you think about how you can have a higher performance level."

Wherever You Go, There You Are by John Kabat-Zinn
"It's one of the classics of the mindfulness genre. It's just one of those books that takes you on a journey and takes you to a different way of thinking about life."

"People who are avid readers know the power of having many books in your life; that enable you to remake your life over and over again in new ways, depending on whatever you're interested in." – Mary Ann Naples, Rodale Books

Tags: happiness