I’m the type of person who is always in the middle of some book or another. Finish one, pick up the next. Lots of people are like this I know, it’s not that special.
I do feel like a lot of my colleagues, however, tend toward reading for their profession a majority of the time. I get the impression that they’re constantly ‘studying up’, if you will. And sure, any spare moment during my day at the computer, I’m likely to be reading trade publications, inspiring blogs, research studies and all that.
When it comes to extracurricular time, however, I read novels almost exclusively — with the occasional well-written essay collection, short story volume or graphic novel for fun. And I’d started to wonder if maybe this was a detriment in the long run. Thank you, then, to the Psychology Today blog for pointing out it may not be after all:
I [ed: Susan Cain, author of the blog post] just came across a study suggesting that fiction readers tend to be more empathic than non-fiction readers. This could of course be correlation rather than causation — maybe the kind of person who likes fiction is more empathic to start with — but the researchers think not. They believe that there’s something about exposure to fiction — the direct immersion in another person’s mind and body — that stimulates our empathic muscles.
Now I feel so much more justified in my choices, it’s a great relief. My peers in the field of “knowing how people think and why they do what they do” can all read the same trend reports and look at the same sources of data and we can all say we understand people so well. But it’s gratifying to know that scientists back me up on what I’ve thought all along: you can always research the details, but a real sense of people and how they work — what they feel, how they tick — is a much deeper skill. Knowing that that skill can be strengthened by reading fiction, something I’ve always adored, makes me think I’m in the right business for the right reasons. Not to mention letting me breathe a sight of relief that I don’t have to start browsing the business section to stay good at it.
As a side note, I think this applies to some degree to my favorite bands as well. Several of them are what you’d call quite literary. Storytellers. Creators of well-fashioned characters and scenes that evoke emotion. Maybe all these things are related, maybe not. Do I tend to favor more ’empathic’ bands, or am I just a geek for language and its skillful application to song, I don’t know. Nonetheless, one of my favorites has put out a record this spring that ranks among his best, so do check out The Mountain Goats’ All Eternals Deck if you’re in the mood for an album of stirring songwriting. I’ve been especially likely to be singing “Prowl Great Cain” these past few weeks.
“While happiness increases along with annual household incomes up to about $75,000, beyond that, earning more money has no effect on day-to-day contentment, according to the study….
“This study is consistent with a lot of other studies on the relationship between income and happiness or overall life satisfaction,” Maddux [a psychology professor] said. “What other studies have also shown is that money matters up to a point. But after a certain point, having additional money doesn’t make people like their lives better or feel better about themselves on a day to day basis.”
the above news item has popped up in lots of places, so i couldn’t help but share a few thoughts:
— lots of places are falsely saying that the ideal amount of money to make is $75k, which is a gross misinterpretation. obviously more money not making you substantially happier is not the same as it making you less happy, or does that money suddenly lose its power to buy things, or even be given away to help others. i hate when science is skewed to make better headlines. come on new york times, you’re better than that.
— i bet these stats differ pretty greatly for people with lots of college debt. there are probably plenty of newly graduated law or med students who could be a lot happier even at 75k.
— the fact that the median income is 52k explains a lot in light of this study. we’re a nation of people not quite financially comfortable enough to chill out about dumb things like where people build mosques. nor are we able to stop worrying about paying bills long enough to focus on bigger problems like ending wars (or even voting, for gods’ sake).
— lastly, how many people will cite this article when asking for a raise this year? “sure boss, a raise to 68k would be very generous, but for just a few thousand more i could be at optimum happiness!”