In an interesting new study, researchers found that reading fictional stories will increase your empathy for others, improve your ability to see things from another's point of view, raise your social awareness, and make you more open to new experiences.
All these results improve the quality of relationships, which is, of course, one of the most important generators of good moods.
Reading fiction gets its power from your emotional connection to the characters in the story. While reading, you temporarily set aside your own point of view and goals and take on the goals and point of view of the characters in the story. This functions as a kind of training. "Just as computer simulations have helped us understand perception, learning and thinking," writes Keith Oatley, "stories are simulations of a kind that can help readers understand not just the characters in books but human character in general."
In another article, Oatley wrote, "In fiction...we are able to understand characters' actions from their interior point of view, by entering into their situations and minds, rather than the more exterior view of them that we usually have. And it turns out that psychologically there is a big difference between these two points of view. We usually take the exterior view of others, but that's too limited."
In addition to the long-term benefits, the process of reading stories is also relaxing and enjoyable. Reading is one of the most reliable ways to produce flow — a psychological state that positively influences your mood (read more about that here).
So reading fiction can improve your mood immediately, and then improve it again in a different way with its long term effect.
Reading books has gone out of fashion, especially in the last ten years, and especially among college-age people. It is probably not a coincidence that another study has shown a thirty-year decline in empathy in college-age people, "with an especially steep drop in the past ten years," says Jamil Zaki in a Scientific American article published earlier this year.
There is no need for this to happen to you. You can improve your relationships and be happier using this simple tool: Reading fiction.