How Self-Studying the Humanities Makes Your Life More Interesting

“The unexamined life is not worth living” — Socrates 

Why study the humanities? For one, it just makes like more interesting.

It’s not only the pleasure of studying that does this, nor is it simply the conversations and opportunities that open up thanks to the knowledge you’ve gained.

The world’s aspects just become more alive with meaning. There’s more to consider, more to appreciate.

Let’s look at how self-studying philosophy, literature, history, and art makes the world sparkle with nuance and beauty. 


When you read and study philosophy, you find that many seemingly easy questions are actually quite difficult to answer. 

Bertrand Russell reminds us of this in his brown table example.

“Is the table brown?” 

When the light is on? When the light is off? How about the streaks of black running through it?

Underneath every seemingly simple question is a matrix of considerations. The world is a highly complex place, where things are rarely as they seem. 

To some, this might be upsetting. But to the curious-minded, this is a thrilling discovery. 

It means there is a lot still left to investigate. 

It means you never quite know what you’re going to find after a bout of intense observation or contemplation. 

“What is good?” “What should we learn to become educated?” “What is educated?” “What is beauty?” “Should we pursue beauty?” 

Once again, you’re a child, and the world around you is mysterious, full of treasures and wonders.

Read How to Self-Study Philosophy 


When you self-study literature, you learn how to observe closely, notice details, and create meaning. 

You learn that a detail as simple as the color of a child’s shirt can mean something in the story, regardless of whether or not the author intended it to. 

Literature teachers often get the rub for overanalyzing, but this close and creative way of looking at things is actually quite useful in the real world. 

You are able to take that “way of seeing” out into life, and you end up noticing more about real life. And the beauty of life is in the details. 

You notice the grime beneath the shopkeeper’s fingernails, the way your cat sleeps facing the door, the way your friend lowers his voice when he orders pizza over the phone, and you can then interpret this as you wish.

The world becomes more scintillating with intrigue and complexity when you notice the small details and when everything is invested with meaning. 

People become as interesting and as charming, despite their faults, as the characters in your novels and plays. 

While reading Dickens, I can’t help but see aspects of his characters in the people I meet in real life. It doesn’t take long before I’ve bumped into a Scrooge or a Twist. 

Nature, sounds, and sights become as beautiful and intricate as the descriptions in your favorite poems. 

But it’s not just the external that’s more interesting when you study literature. You yourself become a more interesting object of study as well. You realize you have depths and parts yet undiscovered. 

Literature gives us a mirror. We see aspects of ourselves, the good and the bad, in the characters we encounter in the story. And this prompts us to reflect, seeing a part of ourselves in a new light. 

And what’s more fun than analyzing oneself? That’s why personality quizzes and horoscopes are so addicting. Literature provides that on a daily basis at a grander level. 

Read How to Learn English Literature on Your Own


States, regions, institutions, ideas, cultures, events, foods all have their genealogies. They all originated somehow and developed in some unique way over time. 

That religious building on the corner has a past, as does that identity the sullen teenager in your life has adopted, that of Nihilism. 

Look at your government and watch it work. Look at the parties you host and the norms of social gatherings. Your favorite sport! 

They all have interesting pasts, and knowing those pasts gives you an appreciation for how they are today. 

We have pasts too. 

Roots. We dig them up and examine them. The middle-aged man goes to his great great grandfather’s hometown and visits his grave. He expresses glee seeing his name in the local library on some tax document.  It’s human nature. 

Like with literature, history also clues us into the oddity that is ourselves. We’re a product of history, whether we like it or not. 

Our beliefs, our habits, our genetics, how we dress, our political ideals, they’re all handed down to us in some way or other. 

When we know history, we know ourselves. 

Further, politics and current events become more fascinating when we know their antecedents and their relatives from the past. “This is basically what happened on college campuses in the 60s,” we say. It all takes on a new significance. 

Our predictive algorithms start turning, using history — the laboratory of human experience — as its data. And we make educated guesses, which may be far off, but are fun to think up either way. 

Read How to Self-Learn Western History 


As we get older, life’s formerly novel sights and experiences progressively lose a bit of their luster. 

If we don’t make appreciation a priority, we lose the ability, and all of a sudden the spouse we once adored, the birds we once chased become prosaic. 

Even flying in an airplane has become hackneyed. Flying through the air at 400 miles per hour, above the clouds, has become a chore. 

Art, in all its forms, helps us fend off this loss of our inner child, through the technique of defamiliarization: 

Image via Wit Critic

Art, like literature, relies heavily on defamiliarization to create a lasting effect on its viewer.

The technique helps people see the world in a deeper and more novel way by bringing your attention to new things you might not have noticed, and by distorting them slightly or heavily. 

Image via Nonsite

Even just seeing this ship’s sail from a new angle, and with bright colors, and in a painting, makes me want to go to the sea to watch ships pass.

I imagine that since this painting has filled me with a sense of sad self-departure (due to the man’s shadow turning its back on him), I’ll view the boats passing by with the narrative playing in my mind that they’re leaving home for good.

Art is fuel for new perspectives, and new perspectives give us a chance to see everything in a new light. 

Read How to Teach Yourself Art History 

Bottom Line: Self-Education Makes Life More Fascinating

I won’t even get into the social and natural sciences. But you can imagine I think how knowing a bit about botany might make hiking more fun, or how learning a bit about how your government works can increase your enjoyment of following politics.   

What we understand we can better appreciate and enjoy. 

By making the world more interesting to you, it also makes you more interesting as a person, a friend, peer, conversationalist, writer, and thinker. 

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Thanks for reading. I wish you the best in your self-directed studies!


After graduating college with an econ degree I realized I was still anything but well-educated. Over the last 4 years, I've been trying to fix that, autodidact-mode — by reading books and engaging in self-directed study across multiple subjects. On this blog, my goal is to share my learnings and help others get a well-rounded education outside of school. Education, after all, is a lifelong process, one well worth the investment.

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