Did you know that UC Davis boasts the most popular chemical engineering class in the nation, “The Design of Coffee”?* The class attracts a quarter of the freshman class each year, using the many chemical transformations that coffee goes through—from coffee plants to coffee mugs—to instruct the basics of mass transfer and thermodynamics, ending with classmates competing to brew the most delicious cup of coffee (while using the least amount of energy).
You didn’t? I didn’t either until yesterday afternoon. And I never would have if I hadn’t taken the time to sit down and do something that very few of us seem to make time for these days: read.
It was one of those days and I decided to take a mental health lunch break. I finished my most important project for the day, grabbed a few essentials, and walked across the street for a late lunch where I could sit down, relax, and read. To be honest, I was a little disappointed with my reading selection (the February Issue of WIRED magazine), but only because I am currently reading “The Tommyknockers” and happened to leave my copy at the side of my bed. I could have continued the story with an e-book—although I am morally opposed to tech replacing the comforting weight of a novel in your hand—or read online articles instead, but have you ever had a moment where you needed to get away from technology? A cellphone is almost equally comforting and stifling, placing a world of knowledge at your fingertips but also allowing everyone to contact you. At any time. For anything. (Seriously, I received two phone calls in the first 15 minutes of my lunch break…)
So, with Tommyknockers at home I searched my office bookshelf for the next best thing and landed upon WIRED: What Lies Ahead, which is where I learned about “The Design of Coffee”, trapeze artist Maica Folch, and Plumen’s design of an artistic lightbulb. These topics might seem frivolous—and it’s true, I probably could have lived an entire successful life without ever knowing about them—but in reading about them, I learned something:
- Coffee grounds contain oligosaccharides, sugars also found in breast milk that can promote the growth of good bacteria.
- What does that mean? In the future, coffee could be useful in microbiome therapy (treating illness with gut bacteria).
- Folch, in the aftermath of a miscalculation with her equipment that almost led to a death-inducing fall, gave some possibly-accidental-yet-awfully-inspirational relationship advice when she stated, “The secret to a thriving trapeze partnership is not necessarily forgiveness but refusing to think of the inevitable disappointments of life as requiring forgiveness in the first place.”
- What does that mean? In all relationships, you are bound to make the occasional mistake. Rather than holding your partner to an unachievable standard, understand that they are doing the best they can, just like you are, and that nobody’s perfect. (Exceptions apply…)
- Art is beginning to influence technology. Plumen hired artist Claire Norcross to help with their bulb design, the 003. She used nature for inspiration, namely flowers and pinecones, to create a light source that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing. They also reached out to jeweler Marie Laure Giroux to create the bulb facets.
- What does that mean? When you think of art, did you ever think you would see it in something as simple as a lightbulb? Artistic appreciation is growing, with individuals realizing that even the everyday can be beautiful, and maybe we should start designing that way.
Verdict: In 20 minutes of reading I learned about the scientific potential of coffee, how to make my relationship better, and that my passion, art, is both appreciated and expanding.
Not bad for a simple lunch break.
The benefits of reading go far beyond my 20 minutes with a magazine. In actuality, it only takes six minutes to feel the positive physical and mental effects gained from reading. According to a study by Mindlab International at the University of Sussex, “subjects only need to read, silently, for six minutes to slow down the heart rate and ease tension in the muscles.” The act of reading, something so charismatically immersive, holds enough power over the mind to almost instantly reduce stress. In the study, those six minutes of reading were seen to reduce stress by 68%, compared to drinking a cup of tea (54%) or taking a walk (42%). “Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation,” said cognitive neuropsychologist Dr. David Lewis.
The habit of reading has also been seen to stave off dementia and other neurological conditions. By actively engaging your mind through reading, puzzles, or other mental-stimulating activities, you are essentially building your mind’s strength. Reading has the same benefits to the mind that exercise has to the body, with one study showing that “people who exercised their minds later in life had a 32% lower rate of mental decline compared to their peers with average mental activity.”
And the list continues.
Reading can make you a better writer. Reading can increase your vocabulary. Reading can increase your empathy. Reading promotes healthier sleep. Reading can lower depression. Reading can even enhance your theory of the mind, or “the ability to intuit some else’s mental state—to know, for example, that when someone raises their hand toward us, they’re trying to give us a high-five rather than slap us.” But personally, what it all comes down to is simply this:
Reading makes me happy.
There is nothing on this earth quite like falling in love with a good book. Empathizing with its characters, envisioning its universe, feeling the flow of its words through your mind as they forever alter your outlook and leave an impression upon your heart. From dramatically heavy literature, such as East of Eden by John Steinbeck, to “junk-food-for-the-brain” novellas, such as A Duke of Her Own by Eloisa James, read them all.** I don’t care what you like, as long as it speaks to you.
Just pick up a book and read.
*No, that’s correct. I recently learned that unless a punctuation mark is part of the title, it actually does go outside the quotes. It looks wrong though…
**Seriously. Those are two of my favorites.