Audiobooks: My Unexpected Journey to a Happier Life

For years, friends kept telling me to try audiobooks. Again and again, I refused. “I don’t think I could absorb a book by listening to it,” I said. “I just like physical books so much,” I said.

Blah blah blah.

Thankfully, Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge saved me. While I can apparently ignore the excellent advice of people I love, I can’t ignore a well-designed reading checklist. There is little I enjoy more than the satisfaction of checking things off a list. When I stumbled across the Read Harder challenges last December, I decided, greedily, that I would complete all three of them this year. So, grudgingly, I listened to an audiobook. Then, less grudgingly, I listened to another. Now I must have an audiobook going at all times. I am obsessed.

I was not surprised when audiobooks began to enrich my reading life. I’m reading more. I’m also reading a more eclectic mix of books. I’ve read and enjoyed many books (mostly nonfiction and memoir) that I wouldn’t have finished in print. But I was not prepared for the massive impact audiobooks have had on my life beyond reading. Audiobooks have become so central to the way I experience the world that I can’t now imagine how I functioned without them. Audiobooks have made me happier.

To start with, there are all the little ways they’ve made my life more pleasant. There’s a whole slew of things I used to find moderately annoying that I now find enjoyable, and often actually look forward to—because they are just excuses to read! I listen to audiobooks while folding laundry, making the bed, packing (I recently moved and it was by far the best packing experience of my life, thanks to audiobooks), emptying the dishwasher, putting away groceries. I’ve never completely hated cleaning the kitchen, but these days, I actually revel in it. Scrubbing pots is no longer just a mundane task— it’s story time.

Perhaps the most striking example of this super-annoying-turned-supremely-pleasant phenomenon is traffic. It’s not life-threatening or truly awful, but let’s face it: anyone who deals with traffic on a regular basis complains about it. I used to gripe about traffic as much as anyone. Now all I think when I see a long line of stopped cars in front of me is: Great! More time to read!

But the real magic of audiobooks is that, because of them, I do more of the things I love. Audiobooks have motivated me to carve more space in my life for the things that truly nourish and sustain me.

I live alone, and I love to cook. It used to take an extraordinary effort to get myself to cook dinner. Cooking for friends or baking treats for work is easy. But cooking for yourself gets lonely fast. I ate a lot of fried eggs on toast.

Then along came audiobooks. Suddenly cooking for myself wasn’t lonely anymore. Suddenly I was pouring through cookbooks, planning meals, happily cooking my way through The Goldfinch and H is for Hawk and The Gene. Sometimes I have to stop chopping because I’m crying, or bent over in laugher, or so caught up in the book I forget what I’m supposed to be doing to the carrots. I don’t dread cooking for myself anymore. I look forward to it.

I even have a new morning routine—go on a long walk with the dog, stretch for ten minutes, make tea, cook breakfast, eat breakfast while actually sitting at the table, wash the dishes–all while listening to a book. This simple routine makes an astounding difference in my day. I’ve been trying to get myself to do ten minutes of morning stretches for years! Audiobooks have given me a way to be kinder to myself, to take better care of myself, and to do more of what I love.

Audiobooks have impacted my life in profound and glorious ways. But the very best thing about audiobooks is this: settling down on a winter afternoon, with a cup of tea and a plate of cookies, to listen to a book while doing a jigsaw puzzle. Puzzles are my go-to comfort. I love the tactile satisfaction of the pieces, and the way my brain stills as my hands work. I didn’t think the experience of doing a puzzle could get any better until I did one while listening to a book. It is, for me, sublime pleasure. It is perfect. It is joy and delight and coziness embodied. This may be a small and simple thing, but it is a small and simple thing I love. This new happiness, a magic made possible by audiobooks—this is the greatest gift they’ve given me.

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A woman checked out a book called How to Win a Local Election. And she did. Listen to Annotated on Apple Podcasts or Google Play to hear her story.
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