When Kaitlyn was kind enough to let me do these guest posts, something specific came to my mind.
Do powerful, engaging fictional stories help us create happiness?
You might think this is a strange question. Maybe it is. I was, after all, thinking about it while in the bathroom, reading a Terry Pratchett book in the middle of the night (great toilet books BTW—but expect your legs to go numb). This book, recommended by some dear friends of mine, was given to me while I was in a serious depression. I’m writing my next novel, and it's so challenging to keep going...because I’m also homeless at present. Add to that being married, with 10 children and a father in law that we care for and might…just might, be able to imagine my stress levels.
This book, in one night, had me laughing to tears. It was beyond brilliant. I instantly found myself not only relating to the child protagonist of the story, but also to a tribe of 6” men in kilts who love to drink and fight (no I won’t explain that one). Within 24 hours my stress had vanished, my smile returned and my writing output went through the roof.
What I wanted to know was: WHY?
My life is the same. The same pressures I had at the beginning of the book remain in my life by the end of the book. Or was it? Why would reading create such a surge of energy and positive outlook, which not only helped me, but helped my children—who now had a happy father hopeful for the future?
It has a great deal to do with physiological changes that take place. Don’t run on me here, I’m completely serious. Every time you read, your body changes. Specifically, there is an increase in the levels of dopamine in our brains, from reading—created by intense mental and emotional moments in the story we experience.
This powerful chemical affects us in dramatic ways, the most important being a sensation of well being, while opening all the nerve centers of the brain! The presence of this chemical increases our ability to learn, create and perform. In many cases, such as my own, it heightens your awareness levels which can alter your perspectives.
That's why we enjoy the 'rush' of a good book: we're all drug addicts.
So to close this article, I have a treat. It’s not one of Kaitlyn’s great YouTube posts, but it is a video. I’m a fan of TED videos and this one caught my attention, because it indirectly explains why the books we love could actually create a happiness/creativity loop in our lives. The video doesn't directly talk about books, but it talks about the results.
I believe great stories are a powerful spark to start the process and to gain access to what Shawn Achor calls the “Happiness Advantage”. This video is very funny and enlightening.