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How to find a hobby that can help you be happy

It’s time to find a hobby. Why? Hobbies aren’t just a source of pleasure, they have some impressive benefits for your mental wellbeing, too.

Fancy trying salsa dancing? Playing the drums? It’s easy to dream big about finding a creative outlet, but it can take much more effort to do it. Finding a hobby can give your health a boost so it may be time to find one that can make you happy.

Four out of five Australians find their hobby helps reduce stress and feelings of loneliness and isolation, and improves their mental wellbeing – and not just while they’re doing it. Psychologist Meredith Fuller says hobbies break us out of our daily routines and entrenched roles, like parenting or work.

“When you have a hobby, there’s another part of yourself that uses different skillsets and gives you a different identity.”

Hobbies also give us a sense that it’s okay to fail – there’s no pressure to get it right, unlike in other parts of life. Plus, you feel good as you start learning and improving.

A small New Zealand study found that engaging in a creative hobby, such as songwriting, creative writing, knitting or playing music, leads to greater emotional wellbeing, including feelings of happiness and enthusiasm that last into the following day.

It suggests there’s an “upward spiral for wellbeing and creativity – engaging in creative behaviour leads to increases in wellbeing the next day, and this increased wellbeing is likely to facilitate creative activity on the same day.” The researchers say their findings support an emerging emphasis on everyday creativity in cultivating a positive mindset.

KEEP CALM WITH KNITTING

Knitting, for instance, can also help reduce depression and anxiety, slow the onset of dementia and distract the mind from chronic pain, according to research conducted in the US and UK.

Research from Harvard Medical School’s Mind and Body Institute, published by Knit for Peace, found that the repetitive movements of knitting released the chemical serotonin, which is calming and lifts mood.

MENTAL MUSICAL NOTES

It’s never too late to learn a new skill. Mother-of-two Jessica Bretthauer took up a musical instrument to help improve her mental wellbeing. “Practising the piano relaxes me by forcing me to concentrate on something other than the endless to-do lists in my head. The sense of achievement I get from mastering a new piece or technique fulfils a need that isn’t met by my job anymore,” she says.

A study published in Frontiers in Psychology of people aged 60 years and older who were taking piano lessons, found that playing an instrument decreased symptoms of depression and improved their outlook and physical quality of life.

GETTING SOCIAL

“I’ve started two hobbies recently: pottery classes and making homemade chocolate,” says 47-year-old Chris Phieler. “Pottery has taught me that even if something looks wonky, you can almost always fix it with the right technique. There’s no shame in smashing it and starting again, and everyone in the class is very supportive of each other’s creations.”

Research from Canada’s Dalhousie University has found that taking part in community activities with like-minded people, such as those who enjoy reading at the local library or other creative crafts such as cooking classes, is thought to support recovery from some mental health problems and improve self-esteem.

ART THERAPY

In the art world, it doesn’t matter if your personality type is expert or novice. For Olivia Davidson, 43, painting helped her through dark days following a breakdown.

“Learning to paint, and letting myself paint whatever I felt like painting, were huge aids to my recovery,” she says. “It was a great way of releasing and processing emotions I couldn’t possibly have put into words. At other times it was a source of mental and emotional rest.”

HOW TO FIND A HOBBY FOR YOU

Fuller says hobbies can help you be engaged in something fully, forgetting your daily worries, rather than more passive activities like spending your free time watching TV. Here’s how to find the right hobby for you:

  • To challenge yourself, try a hobby that’s in contrast to your greatest skills. For example, if you’re great at maths, try learning a language.
  • To channel your inner child, think about what intrigued you when you were young but that you were unable to do. Maybe you always wanted to rock climb or play an instrument. Do that with some friends or family.
  • To uncover which activities you most engage with, walk around a crafts store or pick up a book or newspaper and consider which interests and personalities you’re naturally drawn to. You might want to find other people with an interest in learning. Then channel your energy into those areas through great hobbies or learning a new skill.
  • To remove performance pressure, be prepared to spend a lot of time giving things a go without the fear of failing. Enrol in short courses to learn a new skill at a local community college, like decorating, photography, jewellery making or pottery, and see what sticks.

Words by Charmaine Yabsley 
This article originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of HCF’s Health Agenda magazine.

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