Why We Read

I believe reading is a priority – it’s not just a hobby, or a nice thing to do.

I believe everyone, you and me included, should read as much as possible.

Here is why.

We read to improve ourselves.

You are not perfect, and it is very unlikely you’re anywhere close to fulfilling your potential. You, like every other person, have a collection of flaws and deficiencies that you can fix or work around. Reading is the path to improvement – learning skills, becoming more creative, becoming better at writing and speaking, improving character, gaining focus – the path to becoming more than you are.

We read to learn about the world, and learn what is possible.

The world is a big place, and it’s a daunting task to learn what’s already out there. There are billions of people, millions of places, thousands of philosophies, and hundreds of branches on the tree of knowledge that you know nothing about – it’s impossible to see, meet, or know all of these things. Half of your time learning could easily be spent learning what exists, even before you dig into the details. Even once you get over learning what currently exists, you have the even more daunting task of figuring out what could exist. When you read fiction, especially science fiction, expands your beliefs about what is possible. When you read history, it shows you what has already happened, and could happen again. As the saying goes, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

We read to improve our empathy.

By empathy, I don’t mean tribalism, where you only identify with people close by or similar to you. By empathy, I mean your ability to understand your fellow human beings, to see things from their perspective, and understand their motivations. When you meet someone, it’s dangerous to assume you already understand their beliefs, their experiences, and what kind of relationship is possible between the two of you. Reading about the people of the past, and reading hundreds of stories with hundreds of characters, will give you the tools necessary to understand the people you meet.

We read to learn from past mistakes.

Thankfully, they don’t have to be your own past mistakes. While average people end up learning from their mistakes, above-average people learn from their mistakes and the mistakes of others. Below-average people never learn from anyone’s mistakes, theirs or other people’s. The study of history, and even reading fiction, helps with this a lot.

We read to gain perspective, reduce stress, and get away from the pettiness of life.

It is easier than ever to get caught up in pointless things – social media drama, office politics, national news that won’t matter next week or even tomorrow – the list goes on. It’s easy to stress and obsess over these things. Pay attention to these things the absolute bare minimum (or even not at all) and then turn your attention to what matters. Philosophy, ethics, history, science, the highest ideals and ideas. When you think about the highest ideals, and consider the scope and scale of the universe, the small dramas and daily stresses simply don’t matter as much.

We read to access the collective wisdom and knowledge of humanity.

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” says Ecclesiastes 1:9. For every problem that exists, chances are someone has solved it or solved a problem like it. For every thing that happens, someone else has experienced something similar. For every challenge or obstacle, someone has insight for how to overcome it. 99% of problems are not unique, and more often than not the solution simply needs to be found.

We read to improve our thinking.

Your mind is filled with all kinds of instincts, biases, fallacies, and cognitive distortions – all of which make you not just irrational, but predictably irrational. These errors in thinking lead to false beliefs, leading to unwise actions. If we can overcome errors in thinking, it becomes easier to update our beliefs, and easier to take better actions. Plus, as we get older our memories get worse, and our ability to think starts to decline – reading regularly, and challenging your brain with new ideas and new information, will slow this decline well into old age.

We read to be more like the people we admire.

Think of your heroes, and the people you idolize. Think of them, and realize it’s possible to become more like them through reading. Read about their life. Read about their ideas. If possible, find a list of books they’ve read and loved. Don’t just admire this person from afar, immerse yourself in their life and way of thinking. There’s a common saying that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with – make sure those five people are heroes.

We read because we’re (probably) not going to live forever.

There are hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of good books out there. Think of all the stories you haven’t read, ideas you haven’t considered, and histories you’ve never heard of. You could spend your finite life reading the best books written in all of human history – or you could spend it watching TV, playing video games, and browsing social media. Time can be well spent, or it can be wasted, but it can never be gained back once it’s gone.

What will you read today?