If you are reading this article, chances are you love watching TV shows. You have also probably been told that investing a lot of time in fictional worlds can be bad for your health. While some recent studies suggest that binge-watching can have negative effects, there are also many health benefits to watching fiction that aren’t often talked about.
1. It improves your emotional intelligence
Emotional Intelligence is described as an individual’s capability to recognize and comprehend one’s and other people’s emotions, sympathize with them and act on them accordingly.
Becoming attached to fictional characters isn’t really that different from growing fond of real people. When written well, a fictional character can feel as humanly rich as any other person walking down the street. Learning about a character’s thoughts and emotions, trying to emphatize with them, being able to recognize character growth or even speculating on how certain events will affect them all exercises that might help improve your emphaty and overall emotional intelligence.
Relating to a character and being able to see yourself represented does not only better your viewing experience, but it also improves your cognitivity. It’s hard for anyone to stay emotionally detached to a fictional story, as our brains tend to look for aspects to relate them to our own personal experience. This is also why metaphors work so well for us.
Puting yourself in someone else’s shoes, fictional or not, can also make you adopt a more open-minded perspective of life, making it easier for you to understand other people’s point of view and to see life from a different perspective. These are all qualities that will certainly help when developing healthier relationships.
2. It helps you get in touch with your feelings
People who struggle with getting in touch with their feelings or with communicating them, often find fiction to be safe and comforting. There are some personality disorders that make it difficult for people to feel connected to their own feelings, let alone other’s. This leads these people to search elsewhere to fill this human need. When watching a movie, no one expects you to react a certain way or to interact with characters. You don’t need to have a mental disorder to feel that way, though – introverted people also find it easier to get invested in a fictional world than in real life matters.
Psychologist Birgit Wolz said the following on the effects of watching films:
“Because many films transmit ideas through emotion rather than intellect, they can neutralize the instinct to suppress feelings and trigger emotional release. By eliciting emotions, watching movies can open doors that otherwise might stay closed.” (source)
If real life doesn’t do the trick for you, fiction might help you get in touch with your emotions, whether it’s crying or having a much needed laugh.
3. It can increase your creativity
You don’t have to be a writer or an artist to get inspired by a fictional story.
Believe it or not, reading or watching stories is actually a mental exercise that will cause you to expand your horizons and make you think in different ways, hence increasing your creativity. Just like travelling, getting to meet new (fictional) people and learning new stories is enough to give you new ideas and to inspire you to change something in your life or in the world.
4. It battles stress
Whether you’re going through a rough patch or you have a lot in your plate at the moment, watching a movie is always a great pastime to help you tune out and focus your mind in something else. The reason why we love stories is because they are entertaining and they cause us to take our minds off our daily lives, lowering our anxiety levels.
“Escaping from reality” is one of the main reasons why people fall in love with consuming fictions and why so many join fandoms in the first place. Even if you add “watching a weekly movie” to your weekly schedule to have something to look forward to at the end of the week, that will already help a lot with handling stress better and make you happier.
5. It’s educational and raises awareness
Learning new vocabulary is one of the main reasons why so many people recommend reading literature. Watching fiction can also help you learn new vocabulary (especially if you’re learning a different language!) and it can educate you on topics you’re not familiar with. As stated before, metaphors work wonders with us, which is why it’s easier to learn through stories and examples than through memorizing bullet point in text books.
Finally, some stories can also contribute to society by raising awareness about not-so-popular or stigmatized topics. As long as it’s well-done, whether you’re learning about transexuality through Orange is the New Black‘s Sophia Burset, or mental disorder through Shameless‘ Ian Gallagher, fiction can be a more than valid way of raising awareness, the first step to action, which is why representation is so important!