The Power of Great Fiction
Chances are, you’re familiar with the idea that an individual’s ability to reason and process information can be measured using an IQ—intelligence quotient—test. You’ve probably taken an IQ test yourself at least once in your lifetime for school or a job and you may even have tackled one online for your own personal curiosity. IQ tests have been around for a long time and are used by educators, employers, the military, and health care professionals to evaluate and compare the strengths and weaknesses of individuals.
As useful as IQ tests are, it’s widely acknowledged that they don’t tell the full story of anyone’s potential. We all know highly intelligent people who don’t live up to their potential, and we also know highly successful people who perform well beyond their intelligence. Thus, there must be something else, some other quality, that helps determine success in life. That “something else” is emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence, often called EQ, is the other variable in the success equation. While your IQ may get you into college, your EQ helps you manage the stress that accompanies academic rigor. Your IQ might get you the job, but your EQ will help you navigate the relationships that help you climb the corporate ladder. IQ and EQ work best when they work together.
What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is broadly defined as including the following four attributes:
- Self-management—the ability to manage and control feelings and behaviors
- Self-awareness—the ability to recognize emotions and how they affect your thoughts and behavior.
- Social awareness—the ability to have empathy.
- Relationship management—the ability to develop quality relationships, work well in a team, cope with conflict, and communicate effectively.
Looked at another way, EQ is your ability to manage, understand, and use your emotions to do the following:
- Relieve stress
- Communicate effectively
- Make informed decisions
- Defuse Conflict
- Build strong relationships
- Succeed in work and school
- Achieve your goals
- Overcome challenges
Margaret Andrews, a leading instructor of Emotional Intelligence in Leadership, said the following about EQ:
“Emotional intelligence is critical in building and maintaining relationships and influencing others—key skills that help people throughout their career and wherever they sit in an organizational structure.”Margaret Andrews
Additionally, people with a well-developed EQ are more innovative and more satisfied with their jobs than people with lower EQs.
IQ and EQ are similar in that some folks are simply naturally gifted in one or both of these areas. But there’s another critical similarity: just as education, experience, and training can boost an IQ, there are also concrete steps you can take to increase your EQ. According to the Harvard Division of Continuing Education, to grow and expand your emotional intelligence, you can do the following:
- Recognize and name your emotions as they occur.
- Ask for feedback from others about how you respond to emotional situations.
- Read books. That’s right. Reading, especially fiction, is widely believed to have a significant positive impact on overall EQ.
Let’s take a closer look at how reading literature impacts emotional intelligence.
The Reading-EQ Connection
The link between non-fiction reading and IQ is straightforward: knowledge and information consumption are directly correlated to overall intelligence. But there is also a critical link between reading fiction and EQ. Active reading of literature has been shown to hone the cognitive muscles at the heart of emotional intelligence. Reading fictional stories about complicated relationships, situations, and ideas builds emotional awareness and empathy as the reader gains insight and perspective into the characters’ thoughts and actions. A great novel isn’t just an escape. For lovers of books, the escape is of significant value, but stories are also critical for developing and stretching our EQ.
Here’s a look at some of the ways reading fiction builds emotional intelligence:
Reading Literary Fiction Develops Empathy
Empathy is the intellectual and cognitive ability to recognize and respond appropriately to the emotions of other people. There are two reasons why improved empathy is one of the benefits of reading.
First, the characters in books hook us into their stories. When they’re in danger, our hearts race. When they’re sad, our hearts ache, and we may even cry. When the hero or heroine saves the day, we rejoice. We can read about all these emotions and even feel many of them, but we do it safely; books are like flight simulators in that they put us squarely in the middle of the action without putting us at any risk. Reading is a perfect opportunity to practice and develop empathy.
Second, we make connections between what we’re reading and things we’ve actually experienced without even noticing. The characters share their emotions and let us know how and why they are making decisions, giving us insight into how we feel and act in similar situations. Reading helps us make sense of the world and the processes those around us use in daily life. As we read, we learn to predict the characters’ actions by making inferences about what they are thinking and feeling, a skill that’s critical to real-life empathy.
Reading Literary Fiction Develops Theory of Mind
Theory of mind is a term that, outside of psychological circles, doesn’t get a lot of traction, so it may be unfamiliar. Basically, theory of mind refers to understanding that people hold their own beliefs and desires that may differ from our own. It’s also the capacity to realize many of these beliefs may be unseen and may even be wrong, but they can still influence how others act and feel. Functional theory of mind is critical to positive social interactions because this skill is used to analyze, judge, and infer information about others’ behavior. Active readers of fiction develop and strengthen theory of mind as they learn to comprehend the characters’ thoughts and feelings and discern how these influence their actions.
Reading Literary Fiction Develops Critical Thinking
Fiction often presents characters with differing but equally valid perspectives. Readers are offered non-binary scenarios where characters with competing but reasonable viewpoints are in direct conflict with one another. Active, engaged reading requires asking questions, connecting with new ideas, and doing the intellectual work necessary to think critically about what is right and what is wrong and how to resolve conflict when the differences aren’t noticeable.
Losing Yourself and Finding Yourself in a Good Book
While developing emotional intelligence is a more elusive goal than improving your IQ, regular active reading of fiction puts real EQ growth at your fingertips. Reading improves your critical thinking skills, develops the theory of mind, and expands your ability to feel empathy for others, all of which are essential emotional skills. At Discover Books, you’ll find all the fabulous fiction you need to grow your emotional intelligence. With titles starting as low as $3.85 and free shipping on orders of $9 or more to the lower 48 states, what are you waiting for? Read a good book and boost your EQ today!