The research also found poetry, in particular, increased activity in the right hemisphere of the brain, an area concerned with 'autobiographical memory', which helped the reader to reflect on and reappraise their own experiences in light of what they had read.
The academics said this meant the classics were more useful than self-help books.
In his book, Louder Than Words: Harness the Power of Your Authentic Voice, Todd Henry, an author and consultant, has come up with a practice called "50 Notables" that helps you rethink your options. List 10 instances when people responded to your ideas. At the end of this process, you'll have 50 specific examples of your strengths, passions and dreams. How could your success at solving a problem be used to pursue a dream?
"These categories," writes Henry, "are a great calibration tool to help you figure out how to direct your work." And life.
Reading challenging works by the greatest writers in the English language such as Shakespeare's King Lear and Philip Larkin's poetry provides a ‘rocket-boost’ to the brain that cannot be matched by more simplistic modern books, research suggests.
The researchers used brain scans to study which areas of the brain were active when volunteers read complex passages by Shakespeare, Larkin and other great writers, then dumbed down versions of the same text.
The academics were able to study the brain activity as readers responded to each word, and noticed how it 'lit up' as they encountered unusual words, surprising phrases or difficult sentence structure.
The next phase of the research is looking at the extent to which poetry can affect psychology and provide therapeutic benefit.
using the work of, among others, including Wordsworth, Henry Vaughan, John Donne, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Eliot, Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes.
Figuring out what you're meant to do in life is hard.
You probably like a bunch of things, love a few other things and worry that committing to any of them might land you in a fireball of failure. Next, list 10 times when you were moved emotionally. Then 10 of your greatest hopes, and 10 times you've solved a problem. How did your ability to convince someone of your idea correlate with an instance when you were moved emotionally?