Can You Read Your Way to a Life Well Lived? Goodness Investigates

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If you own multiple copies of the same book, are the go-to friend for reading recommendations, and know your George Wickham from your John Willoughby, we’ve already established this: you’re a bibliophile. Congratulations. Unbeknown to you, this love of reading has increased your level of self-awareness, improved your self-esteem, and aided in your ability to tackle life’s challenges – without a self-help book in sight.

Case in point? A paper in the 2015 Journal of Applied Social Psychology illustrated how literature can make a reader more empathetic after examining the reduced prejudice amongst young Harry Potter fans in Italy and the UK towards minorities such as refugees. And there’s plenty more where that came from. According to the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders, mental-health experts are now turning to bibliotherapy, ‘prescribing’ written materials to supplement the treatment of depression, mild alcohol abuse, anxiety, eating disorders, and agoraphobia.

Understandably, the concept has caused a bit of a buzz as of late. In fact, The School of Life even offers a bibliotherapy service guiding participants to books that have the power to “enchant, enrich, and inspire”, with sessions taking place in-person in London or remotely via phone or Skype. But the recognition of literature’s healing abilities is hardly new; the ancient Greeks deemed libraries as sacred places with curative powers.

One UAE-based psychotherapist and counsellor by the name of Gamze Hakli Geray takes a keen interest in these crossroads between reading and therapy, particularly as an avid reader and published author herself. Following Geray’s masterclass at the recent Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, Goodness learned more about how reading can enhance your overall well-being and contribute to your healing process – regardless of what it is that you’re healing from. Here are four key takeaways from our conversation.


Reading Makes You Happy

“Happiness is an inner-conscious state, and it requires a personal intention to be in that state. I believe reading helps to increase both hedonistic happiness (it can instantly help you stay in the moment and give you the pleasure of learning soemthing new) and eudaimonic happiness (it can give you meaning and a long-term purpose with self-realization).”


Reading Can Be Therapeutic

“Reading is a form of meditation when you engage with the right type of books – be they fiction or non-fiction. When you choose to read what appeals to your thoughts and feelings, you automatically and naturally start connecting with your inner being.

There are techniques in therapeutic reading, especially when we struggle with certain emotions that are more difficult to process. Reading can be therapeutic if you would like to be your own source of support during challenging times. Purposeful reading – or reading with the intent of increased comprehension – can help achieve well-being.”

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Reading Taps Deep Within

“Reading can take us through the narrow corridors of different emotions – especially the most challenging ones such as fear, anxiety, stress, grief, and bereavement. The secret is to be able to make a list of exact texts, books, and lines of poetry that can help in your healing process.”


Reading Requires an Open Mind

“Self-help books – as a genre – can be quite divisive, but I’d prefer to be non-judgmental about this topic, especially as I’ve personally benefited from them. I think each of us has a unique style and preference when it comes to choosing the books that we get attached to and the topics that we are curious about, but an open mind is a must.

I would start with the classics: How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie, Living, Loving & Learning by Leo Buscaglia, and The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. Those are the first self-help books I read when I was a young college student. They summarize some basics with simple messages without being arrogant. I like their simplicity.”

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Photo: Courtesy of @TheSchoolOfLifeLondon