What is Deep Reading and How Can It Make You Happier and Smarter?
Have you ever become so engrossed in a text that it occupies your every waking thought?
Whatever it was, unfortunately, not many know the power of becoming fully immersed in a good book. At least, not as many as once did. The digital age has nurtured an increasingly short attention span, one which is addicted to frequent dopamine-hits and has a hard time sitting still.
Most of us are no exception to this. It’s hard to reject the convenience that a smartphone and the other smart devices in our life afford us, not to mention web pages that load almost instantly on any device, smart device, personal computer, or otherwise.
But what are we losing by living this way? It’s hard to know for certain. However, according to researchers, the practice of deep reading– which is virtually the polar opposite to this dopamine-centric lifestyle– offers several significant benefits that the digital age may be robbing us of.
We must form our minds by reading deep rather than wide.Quintilian
What is deep reading?
Deep reading, also called slow reading, is the intentional act of reading slower and more thoughtfully with the purpose of increasing– or “deepening”– comprehension and enjoyment.
The likelihood is you’ve stumbled into a deep reading experience at least once in your life before, at least to some extent, whether it’s your favorite fiction story or a powerful non-fiction thought piece.
The book devoured your mind and left you swimming in it day and night. You perused passages several times over, contemplated the meaning of scenes or lines of text, and dreamt of the characters, settings, or other imagery as you slept.
This happened without you ever intending it because interest is the spark which causes us to want to delve more deeply into a topic– and sometimes do it involuntarily. Chances are that book has had a more significant impact on you than most else in your life.
But deep reading isn’t an experience you can only happen upon. As the definition states, deep reading is an intentional activity, so it’s something you can do at will, whether it be exploring an incredible fantasy realm or diving into a deep philosophical or psychological topic.
How deep reading can make you happier and smarter
What’s the value of deep reading? Besides the obvious pleasure from immersing yourself so deeply in a topic that fascinates you, apparently quite a lot.
“Deep reading requires human beings to call upon and develop attentional skills, to be thoughtful and fully aware,” say authors Robert Waxler and Maureen Hall in Transforming Literacy: Changing Lives Through Reading and Writing.
“Unlike watching television or engaging in the other illusions of entertainment and pseudo-events, deep reading is not an escape, but a discovery. Deep reading provides a way of discovering how we are all connected to the world and to our own evolving stories. Reading deeply, we find our own plots and stories unfolding through the language and voice of others.”
Through the act of deep reading, we not only delight in the exploration of other worlds and knowledge but learn and discover about them and ourselves in the process. And that’s all while developing important cognitive skills such as deductive reasoning, critical analysis, reflection, and the process and nurturing of insight.
Tips for creating a deeper reading experience
Deep reading doesn’t require any specific set of strategies, all you need to do is read at the pace at which you can fully absorb the information of a particular book and allow yourself to reflect on the information in the book freely outside of reading.
However, there are some things you can do to further pull yourself into whatever you’re reading and make it a deeper and more meaningful experience.
Here are a few tips for creating a deeper reading experience:
- If a chapter or passage in the book confuses you or leads you to enter deep in thought, stop and allow yourself to think on it before continuing if you feel compelled to. Some books just aren’t meant to rush through and that’s okay, you should place your focus on gaining as much value from the text as possible– both pleasure and knowledge– and not be focused on rushing through it just to say you’ve completed a book.
- Or reread it. True comprehension and application of any text (we’re talking specifically non-fiction here of course) virtually requires rereading. However, fiction benefits from this as well. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up some new detail I missed from one of my favorite novels upon coming back to it.
- Don’t hesitate to write in the book or on an accompanying notebook: Some books require a little note-taking. Or, at least, they can benefit from it. When you need to think through something or want to come back to an idea, write about it.
- Pair reading on a same or similar topics together. In fiction, this generally manifests as reading an entire series and other related books from that series’s universe together all in one go as opposed to jumping around to other books. You can do the same thing with non-fiction by reading books of the same or similar topics one after another, helping you dive deeper into said topic and over a longer period of time.
Deep reading has a lot of benefits but it can be a bit difficult to get into with the way the digital era has conditioned our attention spans.
I’d suggest pairing a deep reading in the beginning with a digital detox for that reason. However, either way, if you push through that initial resistance you’ll find yourself quickly becoming immersed in the text and find the value in deep reading.