You may think you’re reading just for enjoyment, and reading a good thriller should be a satisfying entertainment experience. But you’re getting a whole lot more out of it than you might think. Reading thrillers can bring you multiple unexpected benefits!
When you crack open a thriller, you have a fair idea of what you’re in for. A good thriller grabs you by the throat, propels you along, and doesn’t let go until the story ends. And sometimes, not even then.
It gets your heart pumping, your lungs in a flutter, and you may even break a sweat. But other than a neat little cardiovascular bump, what else is in it for you?
Quite a lot, as it turns out.
Four unexpected benefits of getting your thrill on
Reading thrillers, mysteries, and other types of suspense fiction provides a mental workout, stimulating a variety of areas in your brain. Numerous studies show that as you read, your brain processes the words in a way that puts you into a virtual simulator, experiencing the events of the book as if they are actually occurring. This helps you in at least two ways:
- It engages your brain in an active experience. Just as you need to exercise your physical body to stay in good shape, you need to work your brain to keep it in peak condition. Thrillers and mysteries provide puzzles to work through, like an obstacle course for your brain.
- You may think you picked up the latest James Patterson for sheer entertainment, but you don’t know the half of it. You always read to learn. Your brain is hard-wired to absorb information in story form, analyze it, and store it away for future reference. It’s a survival technique written into your DNA that makes fiction reading not only fun, but downright indispensable.
This makes mental stimulation one of the fun and unexpected benefits of reading thrillers and other suspense fiction.
While this may sound contradictory, when you read thrillers—the kind of tension-filled stories that make your heart beat faster and your neck muscles bunch up—you are venting off stress.
Think of it like a stress ball for your mind. You squeeze the ball, which involves tensing your muscles, but when you relax, there’s a stress release effect.
As you read, you have some physiological reactions, but the experience is vicarious. These events are not happening to you, even though your brain reacts as if they are.
What you get, at the end of the book, is a catharsis—a cleansing, liberating release similar to the beneficial after-effects of physical exercise, making stress release another welcome and unexpected benefit.
Thrillers revolve on the most critical values we, as humans, hold dear—life, liberty, and justice. As Sue Grafton said in her introduction to the 1998 edition of The Best American Mystery Stories, “each story touches on a facet of evil and, by implication, sheds light on its counterpart, good.” Her remark was in reference to mystery stories, but the same holds true for reading thrillers, mystery’s genre sister.
When you read a thriller, rife with threats against these core values, it gives you a chance to weigh, measure, and wield a magnifying glass to examine your own values and reinforce them within yourself. When good triumphs over evil, you feel the world come back into balance, and receive renewed strength to carry on.
Think of this as another sustaining and perhaps unexpected benefit of reading thrillers.
I only have time to listen to a couple of podcasts each week, and one I rarely miss is Story Grid, with Shawn Coyne and Tim Grahl. In an episode last year, Shawn made a case for how thrillers benefit us as a culture and community. Here’s part of what he said:
“The reason we love thrillers is because they reaffirm a value that we, as human beings, really need to have reasserted. That heroes—individuals who make difficult choices and sacrifice for the good of others—are valuable members of society. Thrillers reinforce that meaningful message to everyone. If we can write really dramatic and wonderful thriller stories, maybe it can change people’s attitudes and remind them how important it is that we sometimes put aside our own personal interests for the betterment of others. That’s what we try to teach our children in the stories we tell.”
Reading thrillers gives us insights into who we are, and where we lie on the hero spectrum. It inspires us to rise to the best that is within us, to serve our families and communities, and to come to the defense of our most-treasured values. It gives us a chance to reflect on our greatest reach, as humans—another benefit of reading thrillers you may not have considered before.
Get your daily dose of thriller
There’s more, and I’ll bet you can think of some other benefits you derive from reading suspense fiction. Still, I think I’ve made a good case for why you should always strive to get your recommended daily allowance of thriller consumption.
Go forth and read, my friend!
That is a good point that reading a type of thriller gives me the chance to examine my values and reinforce them. Maybe it would be good for my values if I started reading more thrillers and mystery books. This is something I am going to have to look into doing soon so my values can be boosted.
Hi Dave, thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts. Yes, I think reading crime fiction gives us the opportunity to review and reinforce our internal value system, whether we do it consciously or under the surface. Justice, order, and redemption are common themes in mysteries, thrillers, and other types of crime fiction. I hope you’ll enjoy reading more mysteries and thrillers!
I never took into account the fact that reading thrillers will be able to help us become aware of who we are and also make us want to show the best in us in real life. I think that is possible since we would be able to think of ways to face situations that we have never faced yet through being emphatic to what is happening to the characters in the movie. With that in mind, I might choose to buy and read this genre when I go to bookstores. It just came to me to start reading books since I have no past times these days, and I am not really into mobile games and physical activities.
Hi Millie, thank you so much for reading and commenting on the article.Fiction, at its best, gives us the opportunity to work through a character’s experience as if it were our own and figure out how we would act. I think most people want to be good and noble, and story provides a sort of simulator where readers can choose their best selves and go through the paces. I hope you do give thrillers a chance. They are an exciting way to learn and grow while being massively entertained! Why not start with mine–Nocturne In Ashes? 🙂
Might you want to add my book The Jungle Rules
Jungle Rules is the first book in a planned trilogy about a small group of retired SEALs who fight for justice. They work undercover for three-letter government agencies against great odds. The missions depicted in Jungle Rules – and those books to follow – are quite realistic in terms of what well trained operators can do in the field.
Hope you like it. Thank you! 🙂
Thanks so much for reading the article–I’m glad you enjoyed it! Your book, Jungle Rules, sounds like a good read too. My best wishes to you for the trilogy.
Great tips and advice. Life resembles a novel. It’s loaded up with anticipation. You have no clue about the thing that will occur until you turn the page. Thanks for sharing the information, this is very useful.
Hi Monique! Thanks so much for reading, and I’m glad you found the information useful. Best wishes to you!
I never thought about how reading high intensity books could be a stress reliever. I really enjoy reading and am always looking for new stories. Maybe I should branch out to drama and thrillers to allow my body to relieve stress while enjoying a good story.
Hi, Jessie–indeed, you should! Of course, I’m a bit biased, but I really think we reap some great benefits from reading suspense fiction. Thanks so much for reading and leaving a comment!