OPINION | Why you should read for 15 minutes a day

     In the digital age, reading has become less of a priority in people’s lives. With addictive social media sites and endless streaming content vying for people’s attention, our society is on the brink of losing out on the benefits a daily reading habit provides. 

     As college students — especially those of us with jobs — time is a valuable commodity. However, you would be surprised how easy it is to set aside 15 minutes a day to read. I decided to develop a daily reading habit once I saw the amount of time I spent on social media. 

     The Pew Research Center found in a 2020 study 2020 that the average American reads one to two books per year, yet spends over 1300 hours per year on social media. With recent revelations about the toxic effects social media sites have on teens and young adults, it is a wonder why we choose to continue absorbing this harmful material. 

     Paired with the countrywide civil unrest and politicians at odds, America seems destined to grow ever more divided as a society every day. We can attribute much of this divisiveness to a lack of empathy for others’ experiences, and that empathy is something books can provide. 

     Various studies show that alongside fighting against Alzheimer’s and dementia, reading increases your ability to empathize with other people. I grew up in a middle-class suburb in Happy Valley, Oregon. I have no idea what it would be like to grow up in inner-city Baltimore or Waco, Texas, let alone India, Beijing or Ethiopia, and I never will fully understand that life experience. 

Selection of books located in the Kraemer Family Library. Photo by Meghan Germain.  

     Reading allows you to get a glimpse into other people’s lives and gain a fraction of an understanding of their situations. This understanding is a significant step toward living a more empathetic life. 

     Starting at 15 minutes is based on a habit-forming theory called Minimum Viable Effort. MVE recognizes that the key to setting a habit isn’t volume but consistency. Therefore, you are more likely to develop a habit if you choose an easily manageable goal, like 15 minutes. 

     If you set the goal too high, there is a high probability that you will fail, get discouraged and not form the habit. 

     Another reason I recommend 15 minutes to start with is that reading for 15 minutes a day will get you to read one average size book per month. 

     The average book is 90,000 words, and the average college-aged adult can read 200-300 words per minute. So, 200 words per minute for 15 minutes per day, divided by 90,000 words, means it will take about 30 days to read a book at 15 minutes a day. 

     Once Apple released the screentime feature, I not only felt ashamed once I saw how much time I spent on social media alone, but I also felt surprisingly encouraged. Of course, seeing that I spent two hours a day on social media was a gut check, but that also meant that I had two hours in my day to fill with something meaningful. 

     If you are one of those individuals who only reads 1-2 books per year, you will read about 60 more books in your lifetime. 

     Sixty may seem like a lot, but 60 books will take up about five feet of bookshelf space. If you only read for 15 minutes a day, you could read up to 720 books in your lifetime. Just imagine the life stories you can take in and the knowledge you could gain from reading one book per month. 

     Joseph Addison once said, “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” Next time you find yourself with some spare time, either before a class or when you’re waiting for an appointment, instead of opening TikTok, open the Kindle app. Your brain and your future self will thank you.