What Beto O’Rourke’s Favorite Non-Political Reads Can Teach Us

Science shows that making time for the books we enjoy can improve our mental well-being.

PAUL RATJE / Contributor/ Getty Images
PAUL RATJE / Contributor/ Getty Images

Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman and buzzy presidential candidate running in the 2020 Democratic primary, recently opened up to Vanity Fair about some of the non-political reads that inspired him, namely The Odyssey, after which he named his 12-year-old son Ulysses. (Asked on Twitter last year what books he would take to a deserted island, O’Rourke replied, “Odyssey! Named our son Ulysses because we didn’t have the guts to name him Odysseus.’)

O’Rourke told the magazine about his love for Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey (he also enjoys Star Wars, which is inspired by Campbell’s work). O’Rourke even relates the campaign trail to his favorite films, comparing his battle against Trump to “every epic movie that you’ve ever seen, from Star Wars to The Lord of the Rings.”

Studies show that reading books for your own satisfaction can improve your mental well-being and increase your overall happiness. In a 2013 study, researchers from the Liverpool University found that reading classic literature can create more electrical activity in the brain. Another 2013 study from The New School in New York City suggested that reading fiction can improve empathy. A 2016 study from the University of Turin found that bibliotherapy — the use of books as therapy in treatment of mental illness — can help reduce depressive symptoms over time. Other research indicates that reading can help alleviate anxious feelings and help individuals disconnect from daily stressors.

While O’Rourke is busy preparing for the political battle ahead, his effort to make time for his favorite books serves as a reminder that prioritizing our mental well-being should be at the forefront of everything we do — whether that constitutes a quick daily meditation, a phones-down dinner with friends, or some time with your favorite read before bed. And whether you prefer a literary classic, contemporary fiction or a biography, there’s proof that reading what we enjoy can make us happier and healthier — and that alone is worth making it into a nightly ritual.

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