Tuesday, July 4, 2017

We Read to Become Happier

We read for different reasons. We read because we “must”, to find out information, out of curiosity, but I would like to believe that a lot of those who read do it for the wellness that reading offers.

A few months ago, while studying for the “Literature and Mental Health” course, run by Warwick Business School together with ReLit (The Bibliotherapy Foundation), I discovered an article on bibliotherapy, “Books do furnish the mind: the art and science of bibliotherapy”, written in 2016 by two medical consultants, Jonathan Bate and Andrew Schuman, both Oxford professors, that made me understand, once again, the importance of reading for our mental and emotional wellbeing.
The short article is extremely comprehensive and it presents the evolution of the term “bibliotherapy”. This term is more than 100 years old and it was first used in 1916 by the American essayist Samuel McChord Crothers. In his essay he takes an interview to his imaginary friend who is a bibliotherapist at the “Tired Businessmen Institute” and where he carefully prescribes his patients books that can help them get rid of depression or unemployment. This imaginary bibliotherapist analyses the therapeutic value of the books he prescribes for each and every case in order to notice their positive results. 

The miraculous power of books dates back a few millennia, even if at that time it was not named “bibliotherapy”. According to the Greek historian Siculus, above the entrance to the sacred library of pharaoh Ramses II it was written “the place where the soul is healed”, and the Renaissance man Michel de Montaigne stated that there are three ways to cure the most terrible mental illness – loneliness: to have a lover, to have friends, to read books, but out of the three options, the one that can last all life is the presence of books. The relation with the books that we know and adore creates a unique state, beneficial and repeatable with every reading. Have you ever wondered why we can sometimes go back to rereading certain books or why a certain poem touches and takes us to a world where everything seems easier, better? 

In the 19th century, the philosopher John Stuart Mill affirmed in his autobiography that William Wordsworth’s poetry cured him of depression; in 2017, his poetry is once again remembered in connection with a difficult loss and the way in which these poems can help you get over the pain you feel because Wordsworth himself suffered these terrible losses: two of his children died before having turned eight. In fact, poems are the “pills” to be administered most efficiently due to their short, yet memorable form. It is more practical to recommend a poem or an anthology of poems than a long novel which demands time and concentration, but what counts most is the impact that the literacy work, be it a poem or a Victorian novel has on our life.  Read to discover yourselves! 

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