12 Ways Reading Every Day Can Improve Your Life

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February’s theme is “For the Love of Books”

Over the past few weeks, I’ve written about our collective love of books – from finding books on a budget and downsizing a book collection, to honoring our libraries and independent bookstores and showcasing the best resources for book clubs.

The good news – perhaps the best news – is that books are alive and well, thank you very much. It doesn’t matter if you read books with an E-reader or the traditional print version, reading is more popular than ever. One wonders what any of us would do if we did not have books to read.

Much has been written about the benefits of reading, including scores of scientific evidence of its neurological and physiological benefits. Studies find that reading just 10 or 15 minutes a day can alter your brain’s functioning power.

A recent Lifehack article outlines some additional benefits to reading. Here’s how reading books can transform your life.

1. Reading stimulates the brain. Recent studies show that reading can slow the cognitive decline in dementia patients. The brain may not be a muscle in the traditional sense, but it can act like one in that it must be worked frequently to improve different cognitive functions, such as memory and math skills. The more you read, the stronger your brain becomes.

2. Reading expands knowledge. The more you read, the more you increase your knowledge of the world. Non-fiction helps you understand current events, science, technology, relationships and even your own pets. Meanwhile, reading fiction gives you insights into human behavior and motivation. Reading expands your view of the outside world.

3. Reading helps increase vocabulary and writing skills. As any professional writer can tell you, if you want to improve your writing and vocabulary, read a lot of books. Be aware of the writing styles too. As you read, it’s helpful to keep a dictionary handy in case you come across unfamiliar terms. Author Susan Reynolds in Psychology Today suggests firing up your writing brain by reading complex literary and non-fiction subjects, like science and art, which forces your brain to think more deeply, a skill that will help you become a better writer.

4. Reading is a form of relaxation and helps reduce stress. The most relaxing activity I know of is reading. Even reading for 15 minutes a day can slow down your heart rate and help you find your center again. Reading provides an escape from the pressures and problems of your day.

5. Reading increases tolerance for life’s uncertainties. A study cited in The Atlantic magazine finds that reading and writing can increase a person’s tolerance for uncertainty. Study participants who read short stories were less likely to need cognitive closure – to reach a conclusion quickly or were less likely to have an aversion to ambiguity and confusion. Reading teaches them that sometimes there are no clear cut solutions to problems and that not all stories end happily or at all. Fiction readers, especially those who were avid readers, were able to think more creatively and not get tied down to one idea.

6. Reading teaches empathy. An article in Real Simple magazine suggests that reading can help you understand a person’s emotions and motivations. By reading about different characters, whether fictional or true, readers can observe human behavior in action. When dealing with real life scenarios, they’re more likely to empathize with people going through difficulties.

7. Reading provides quality “Me Time.” Life can be stressful, and sometimes you want to get away from it all. But if you can’t take a vacation, immersing yourself in a good book is the next best thing. Think of it as a vacation for your mind. And because reading is a solo activity, it provides the quality “Me Time” most people crave.

8. Reading improves critical and analytical thinking skills. If you’ve ever read a spy thriller or a mystery novel and followed the clues to figure out “whodunit,” you’ve learned to use your analytical skills to solve the mystery on your own. Likewise, quietly observing plot development, character development, dialogue and story structure as you read along improves your thinking skills. But you don’t have to read just mysteries to achieve this. Non-fiction books can do the trick as well.

9. Reading helps improve focus and concentration. When you spend time alone with a book, the rest of the world just seems to fall away. When you read, you block out all outside distractions. It helps to turn off the TV and the radio too, which do little to build your brain’s cognitive function. The more complex the book, the more concentration and focus will be required.

10. Reading sets an example for kids. A friend of mine, who is an avid reader, once told me that she reads in front of her two young toddler sons so she can set an example for them. Studies back this up. Kids can develop an interest in reading early on simply by watching their parents read, or better yet, hearing their parents read out loud to them.

11. Reading can help you sleep better. Studies show that reading before bedtime can improve the quality of your sleep, as long as you read a printed book rather than an e-reader or tablet. The light from these devices can interfere with sleep. I’ve had nights when I lie awake at 4 a.m. and can’t get back to sleep. After reading for a half hour or so, I’m drowsy enough to get back to sleep.

12. Reading provides cheap entertainment. Reading is one of the cheapest forms of entertainment you can find. It doesn’t cost much to read a book (unless you purchased the book brand new). The only cost is the cost of the book, but even that can be minimized if you buy second-hand or borrow it. If you’re on a budget, reading is a low-cost option to entertaining yourself.

‘Justice’ Is Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year

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Looking back on 2018, it seemed that most news stories, with the exception of sports and weather, dealt with some aspect of justice. It comes in many different forms too: racial justice, social justice, criminal justice, and more recently, environmental justice. It is no wonder that “justice” was named by Merriam-Webster.com as its top word of 2018.

The concept of justice has many interpretations — from legal and technical to philosophical, the dictionary site explains, and today’s news stories attempt to explain what those concepts mean in our society. As we enter 2019, we will all continue to grapple with what justice means for our lives.

Second on Webster’s list is ‘nationalism’, a word that President Trump used in a speech in October where he described himself as a ‘nationalist.’  Nationalism is defined as “loyalty and devotion to one nation, particularly exalting it above all others.” Nationalism is not to be confused with ‘patriotism,’ which is defined as “love and devotion to one’s country, but not putting it above all other countries.”

The third top word on the 2018 list is ‘pansexual’, a word that actress/singer Janelle Monae used in a Rolling Stone article to describe her sexual orientation and preferences. The prefix “pan” means “all” or “complete” so the word pansexual may be a useful alternative to bisexual.

Other words topping the list include:

* Lodestar – meaning one who serves as an inspiration, model or guide

* Epiphany – a sudden perception of essential meaning or an illuminating realization

* Feckless – ineffective or worthless. In a rarely used antonym, ‘feckful’ means efficient or effective

* Laurel – Did you hear the audio clip that went viral? Did the voice say ‘laurel’ or ‘yanny’?

* Pissant – Derogatory word used by a radio DJ described the daughter of Patriot’s quarterback Tom Brady

* Respect – A tribute to the late Aretha Franklin and her legendary song. It comes from the Latin word ‘respectus’, meaning “the act of looking back.”

* Maverick – An independent individual who doesn’t go along with a group or party. Often used to describe the late Senator John McCain.

* Excelsior – Stan Lee’s motto and salutation often concluded the monthly column he wrote for Marvel Comics. Comes from the Latin word meaning ‘higher’.

For more detailed explanations about these words and their origins, check out Merriam-Webster.com.

The top words were determined by the number of times they had been looked up on their site for meaning and clarification.

This annual list, as fun as it is, highlights why we still need to use a dictionary at times, to not only understand words and meanings, but how those meanings evolve over time and impact our conversations and our writing. It’s also a wonderful way to add to our vocabulary. Who knew there was such a word as ‘feckful’?

Last year about this time, after the 2017 list was revealed, I made my list of words for 2018. Among the words I listed were: backlash, harassment, impeach, bi-racial, isolationism, nuclear, resurgence, and bomb cyclone. I even made up a term, global cooling, to describe the cool reception the U.S. would receive after Trump decided to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

So what words do you think will be in the news in 2019 that will have you running to the nearest dictionary? I have a few in mind. Some are repeats from last year’s list, including ‘treason’ and ‘harassment’. In addition, look for the words ‘equity’, ‘collusion,’ ‘reform’ and ‘vortex’ to hit the news one way or another.

Merry Christmas!

10 Words That Could Dominate the News in 2018

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Online dictionary Merriam-Webster recently shared their top words for 2017. Tops on their list: feminism, which the site selected because of its prominence in news stories throughout the year. Other words included on their list for 2017 were: complicit, recuse, gaffe, federalism, empathy, dotard, syzygy, gyro and hurricane. These words were noted because of a higher than usual percentage of look-ups in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary following references in news stories.

Seeing this list made me think of 2018. What words do you think will dominate the news media in the coming year?

I’ve come up with my own list, presented below in alphabetical order. Some have already been mentioned repeatedly in the news; others are likely to be popular in the coming months. It will be interesting to see if any of these words will make Merriam-Webster’s list a year from now.

Backlash – With social media, it’s all too easy to speak out in favor or against a person or issue. It’s also just as easy to receive backlash for those comments. In the past few years, celebrities and public servants have received backlash for bad attitudes, poor behavior and subpar performances, and that trend will likely continue in 2018. So “backlash” will continue to dominate news stories in the coming year.

Bi-racial – As the nuptials of Britain’s Prince Harry and American Meghan Markle take place this spring, we will no doubt hear more about Markle’s background and family. Markle is biracial, meaning her parents are of two different races. I believe her notoriety will bring to light what it means to be biracial in today’s society.

Bomb cyclone – Sounds intimidating, and for those who live along the Eastern coast of the United States, it was intimidating last week as a bomb cyclone blasted through the region. Bomb cyclone, also known as a weather bomb or explosive cyclogenesis, refers to a weather phenomenon when a low pressure system’s central pressure drops 25 millilbars in 24 hours or less. The conditions are ripe for an epic winter storm with snow and high winds followed by a significant drop in temperature. Popular Science has a nifty explanation of this term.

Global cooling – This is a term I devised to describe the cool response the U.S. has been receiving from its international allies. Since Donald Trump took office a year ago, the U.S. has seen a rash of unpopular policy reversals that have affected our relationships with foreign countries and our standing in the world, such as the Paris Climate Agreement. The result is a “global cooling” attitude toward the U.S., a trend that is likely to continue in 2018 and beyond.

Harassment – As more women come forward to share their stories of harassment in the workplace, the word ‘harassment’ will emerge as a top word in 2018. Harassment comes in many forms, and it isn’t always sexual; it can be verbal, physical and emotional too. And women aren’t always the victim; men can experience harassment too.  Workers will need to educate themselves about what constitutes harassment in the workplace, which is another reason why it will be one of the top words of 2018.

Impeach – There’s been a great deal of doubt surrounding the Trump presidency. As the year progresses, we will likely hear more about Trump’s business dealings with Russia, resulting in continued public outcries for impeachment.

Isolationism – In 2018, I think we will begin to hear more about isolationism, a term referring to national policies that avoid political and economic involvement with other countries. Isolationism has been a recurrent theme in U.S. history, most recently in the 1930s leading up to World War II. With President Trump’s talks of building a border wall along Mexico and the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, the U.S. may once again be moving toward isolationism.

Nuclear – As Trump’s cat-and-mouse game with North Korea heats up, a nuclear incident becomes a very real and scary reality. Discussions about nuclear policies will continue to be a heated debate in 2018, making “nuclear” a top word on my list.

Resurgence – According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, resurgence means “rising again into life, activity or prominence.” As the mid-term elections draw near, I believe we will see a resurgence of political and social interest by individuals and groups alike. More people who had never become politically or socially active will run for office or get more involved, and the results may be startling. Don’t be surprised if we see sweeping changes in the makeup of Congress at the midterm elections in November.

Treason – Much like the word “impeach,” expect to see the word “treason” in many news stories this year as more of President Trump’s political and business dealings are uncovered.

What do you think? Would any of these words make your top words of 2018? What words do you think will dominate the news in the coming year?