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Does reading make you happy?

Does reading make you happy? Er, the answer really is obvious




Sherouk Zakaria

I was scrolling aimlessly through my Facebook newsfeed and came across a 1997 Oprah interview with my favourite actor and comedian, Jim Carrey.

He talks about how visualising being famous helped him get through his poverty and tough childhood. He got the tip from self-help books. “Self-help section,” he tells Oprah, “They renamed it the Jim Carrey wing.” 

They don’t only serve as a source of information, but have managed to contribute to the happiness and wellbeing of generations. The fact that books helped Carrey through his poverty and led him to success, shows the incredible impact the written word can have.

When was the last time you finished a book and thought ‘how did I come this far without reading this?’ as it left you with that feeling that a new window in your brain that you weren’t previously aware of, was now open.

Which is why, of all events, I look forward to the annual Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai. I enjoy it, because I get to sit down with authors who spend their days reading and pouring their thoughts on the page, which they share with the world. And guess what, they share their happiness doing so!

“Reading is happiness,” said Shaima Al Marzooqi, a novelist and columnist, “I know of people who were about to commit suicide, but reading helped them change their train of thought. Books provide solace to inmates and prisoners serving their sentences. Those magical artefacts changed a lot of lives for the better.”

She added, “I’ve read many stories about people who wanted to impact society, and reading was what showed them the way.”

Al Marzooqi said reading doesn’t only grow your thoughts, it also galvanises your brain. “If you don’t read, how will you have ideas and inspiration?”

What was more fascinating is how reading helped Nujeen Mustafa, the Syrian teenager who caught the world’s attention as she managed to flee the civil war in 2014 and get to Germany on a wheelchair. The girl, who’s born with cerebral palsy, said reading helped take her to another world.

Although Mustafa did not have access to books during her journey, reading helped her settle into Germany. “Reading books is like travelling through the realm of the imagination. You get to live the happiness of characters, get into their life and live the journey as it is told. You start creating for yourself another world.” Mustafa co-authored a book about her life, titled Nujeen: One girl’s incredible journey from war-torn Syria in a wheelchair.

Reading, she said, helped her get through difficult things and gave her strength. “It gave me a break from everything happening around me,” she noted.

British historian David Heard, however, said it is important to be mindful of the books you choose. “You can pick some books that won’t make you happy at all,” he laughs. Heard has enjoyed reading ever since he was a child as he spent most of his childhood at the school library, delving into a dozen books every term.

“It’s nice to sit down with a good book. That’s why I hate those electronic things. They are heavy and they actually hurt when they fall on your face. While when a book falls on your face, it is soft,” he says, laughing out loud. 

The saying goes: knowledge is power. And with great power comes great happiness and confidence. When talking about reading, the words of Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown are still ringing in my ears. 

“There’s enormous danger in believing that our version of the truth is absolute, that everyone who does not think like we do, is wrong and therefore, is our enemy.

“For our own survival, it’s critical that we live with open minds, that we educate ourselves, that we ask difficult questions and above all, that we engage in dialogues especially with those whose ideas aren’t our own. I want to acknowledge that tonight what has brought us all together in this space, quite simply, is books. Those magical artefacts that share ideas across borders, across cultures, across languages and most importantly, across time.”

Still questioning why you should be picking up a book right now?

Sherouk likes avocados and salmon. What she doesn’t like is getting emails that start with ‘Dear Mr Sherouk’



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