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Books To Read When You Feel Hopeless

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Feelings of hopelessness are a growing problem worldwide. These feelings can be related to a perception of no opportunities. They can also be tied to physical causes such as chemical imbalances in the brain. Many people also suffer from depression during winter months.

When choosing ways to fight hopelessness and depression, books can be helpful for several reasons. Books take you out of your humdrum life into a fantasy world where you can be a happy and fulfilled person. Books also direct you toward setting new goals and reaching them.

Action is a countermeasure to hopelessness. Reading about some heroes, real life and imaginary, is one way to counteract the feelings that nothing in your life is going the way you want it to. Read further to learn about some specific ways in which reading can help to overcome some kinds of depression, as well as people who have every right to feel hopeless, but do not.

Is reading books good for depression?

Hopelessness and depression are sometimes used interchangeably, but they can have somewhat different meanings. ‘Hopelessness’ is defined as having no expectation of success or of good outcomes. It can also indicate a situation which is not responsive to a cure or a remedy. 

One definition of ‘depression’ is a mood disorder which is exhibited in a range of loneliness, despair or sadness. Depression is usually accompanied by social withdrawal, loss of concentration, sleep disturbances, and sometimes suicidal tendencies. Many behavioral and mental health problems include hopelessness as a symptom. Many people who feel a sense of hopelessness can also be affected by mental health issues, including depression.

Reading books when you feel low is actually a type of therapy that is used in scientific circles. The tactic of ‘bibliotherapy’, when used to benefit people suffering from mental health issues, can be profoundly effective for various reasons. 

What are eight ways that reading books combat depression?

Reading books and talking about what has been read is a way to refocus your life to improve well-being. Some therapists actually rely on assigning their patients particular books to read, in order to move the therapy in a particular direction. Here are some reasons why reading is a helpful approach to fighting hopelessness and depression.

Reading provides a pleasurable environment

When you get engrossed in a very good book, it can be difficult to set it aside. You can be captivated by the characters, scenes, and actions, so much that time disappears while you are absorbed in the words. At the end of the volume, you may be sad that it is over, or you may go out looking for the next book in a series. 

Reading can reduce or eliminate stress

One research study demonstrated that just a few minutes of reading daily can reduce stress levels by as much as sixty percent. The act of reading reduces heart rate, alters the state of mind, and eases muscle tension. Another finding of the same study showed that reading beats out music, drinking tea, going for a walk, or playing video games as a method of reducing stress. Of course, you could drink tea while reading for even more stress reduction benefits. 

Reading can give you an escape from painful ‘real world’ experiences

When your hopelessness or depression is linked to emotional hurt in your world, reading books and becoming immersed in another world is a type of escapism which can be beneficial. Escapism has been shown to provide transformative change in the way readers interact with the world around them. 

Reading helps to develop empathy

Studies have shown that reading fiction helps to improve the level of empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand the thoughts, feelings, or beliefs of another person. Those who have been exposed to fiction may have temporary enhanced levels of empathy, according to some research studies. 

Reading works the brain and prevents memory loss

Entering into cognitive activities throughout your lifetime, slows down memory loss when compared to those who did not participate in such activities. The rate of mental decline was reduced by nearly one-third in those who participated in stimulating activity such as reading, writing and other activities. 

Reading groups can help to address mental health issues

Reading and then discussing what was read can be effective in helping people who are suffering from depression. Those who participate in a regular group discussion about particular assigned books report better concentration, improved emotional understanding, increased self-awareness, and improved ability to discuss issues linked to being and self. 

Reading helps teenagers develop insights into being an adult

Depression and a feeling of hopelessness are particularly prevalent as a rapidly growing problem among teens and young adults. The path through all of the changes that occur during the decade between ages 16 and 25 is challenging at best. It is during this time that individuals explore their self identity. Reading for pleasure among teenagers can enhance academic performance, personal development, and social engagement. Reading fiction provides teens with insights into cultural identity, personal values, and mature relationships. 

These benefits, of course, are not limited to teenagers, but can continue to help adults regardless of age.  Adults may find themselves facing challenges socially, financially, or in their career, and can frequently discover insights from authors who have faced similar situations before.

Reading can make you smarter

Reading provides the ability to better understand yourself, experience different cultures and different ways of approaching life’s challenges, and learn new things. Research confirms that reading makes people smarter. There are demonstrated differences in cognitive levels between those who read a lot and those who read little. Exposure to more written information generally results in higher verbal skills, vocabulary and general knowledge. 

Using bibliotherapy for depression and hopelessness

Bibliotherapy can be used by therapists or on your own to help with conditions such as depression. Reading helps you to make sense of what is happening in the mind or body by comparing it with the experience of others. Reading is used to facilitate the healing process in many types of treatments, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Therapists view bibliotherapy as a therapeutic approach which is used to support other types of therapy. It is common to use stories to work with children or adolescents. 

Bibliotherapy can be used in a group setting to permit participants to share feedback or interpretations of literature and how it may relate to their specific issues. Group settings for discussions also improve communication and encourage more in-depth connections and conversations among participants. 

Some major types of bibliotherapy include creative, developmental, prescriptive, and therapeutic. These may be used primarily in group settings, educational settings, clinical settings, or at home. 

What conditions are benefited by bibliotherapy?

Generally, reading is beneficial to nearly everyone, but targeted reading can be particularly useful for certain types of issues. These issues include but are not limited to anxiety, depression, eating disorders, existential concerns such as death, freedom, meaninglessness, and isolation, relationship issues, and substance abuse. Reading may also be helpful for managing anger, socially appropriate behavior, shyness, grief, rejection, or almost any of the negative ‘isms’ (such as racism, sexism, or ageism). 

What are reading categories to address hopelessness?

Approaching reading as a therapy for conditions such as hopelessness or depression can rely on several categories of books and reading materials. The internet is full of reading lists to address almost any condition you can think of. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Adventure: Adventures can be fictional or nonfiction.  

  • Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by John Krakauer
  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Science fiction/Fantasy:

  • Dune by Frank Herbert
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis


  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley

Problem solving

  • I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai, co-written with Christina Lamb
  • The Night Child by Anna Quinn


  • Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery


  • The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  • Cruel Shoes by Steve Martin


  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen


These are just a few examples of reading categories to give you some ideas. You may be interested in various other categories, such as mysteries, self-help, travel, or even how-to. Any books that draw you away from the feelings that are weighing you down can be used to overcome periods of depression and hopelessness.