With the dog days of summer officially upon us, there’s nothing like curling up with a good book in the melting heat to remind you of childhood. Those long, lazy afternoons by the window, immersing yourself in another world; the low buzz of cicadas in the grass as you hunt for the perfect shady spot to settle in with your new book; and, of course, the lilt of your mother or father’s voice reading to you, a murmur of punctuation to the day.

While you probably didn’t realize it, all those childhood books had a huge impact in your mental development — and that’s a good thing! Here’s why:

Strengthens Communication Skills

You may have noticed by now, every personal and professional relationship in your life needs depends on communication to thrive.

Whether that’s finding just the right words to uniquely express your love for someone or impressing your boss with your succinct clarity, we need words to make it happen. And guess what? You built up the foundations for these skills as a childhood reader. Reading has been shown to dramatically affect children’s vocabularies (linked to collegiate success and salary size), instill confidence, and make for better communicators in the long run.

Boosts Critical Thinking

Being open-minded and considering alternative views are key to critical thought, and are exactly what reading helps cultivate from a young age. Reading bridges the abstract and concrete, the metaphorical and literal, the real and unreal.

By immersing yourself in these intersections, kids become adept at unpacking opposing views, asking questions of the characters and story, finding embedded and double meaning, and grappling with complex ideas. Scholastic suggests that imaginative processes (like reading!) require kids to “retrieve information from memory, compare and contrast ideas, and make connections between disparate bits of information.” Sounds a lot like building up your critical abilities to us.

Emphasizes Empathy

Stories put you in others’ shoes, whether they’re the loafers of a grandpa in a scary house or the curling slippers of an Arabian princess. Either way, you’re exploring life from someone else’s perspective, learning about history, culture, geography, or the fundamental questions of the human condition;

you’re always learning and stretching the limits of how you see the world around you as well as the people in it. Studies have shown heightened brain connectivity in readers, especially in brain areas associated with language comprehension, and sensations and movement. That is: our brains remember stories as if we actually lived them through the protagonist, and this is crucial to compassion and developing Theory of Mind in which we recognize people as individual beings, all with different thoughts, wants, motivations and feelings of our own. Long story short: You’re more understanding and empathetic from all that reading.

Ups The Creative Ante

Falling into the world of stories gives your imagination a major workout, which translates to other benefits as well.

According to the Telegraph, strong imaginative skills in children can indicate higher academic performance later on. But let’s be honest: an active imagination also just makes you a pretty fun person all around. This plays into skills ranging from technical problem solving to cheering up a friend with a wacky story to more readily opening yourself up to new experiences — because you have the creative capacity to imagine the solution, the other side, the adventure waiting for you.