There are so many benefits of hobbies for mental health. The best hobbies relax you, make you happy, and can even prevent or cure problems like anxiety and depression.
Not only are hobbies one of the best ways of exercising the brain, but they can also even stop mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and stress.
Is it any wonder mental health problems are on the rise while hobbies are in decline?
Only a few decades ago, we were all spending our evenings doing things like dancing. It was common for couples to go dancing, for friends to go bowling, and for families to, you know, do things together.
These days, TV has taken over. And TV is not the best thing to do with your spare time!
The average individual spends four hours and five minutes a day watching the television according to the NYTimes. Because of TV and other idle leisures, social activities are in decline.
Time to start doing some healthy hobbies. Mental health will skyrocket as a result!
But why are hobbies important?
Let’s take a look.
9 Facts about the importance of hobbies for mental health
1 They give us something else to focus on
Hobbies give us something to focus on that is not related to work.
For instance, if you play bowling, you can set a goal to beat your personal best score.
That goal motivates you, gives you something to strive for that is stress-free (unlike career goals) and takes your mind off of your concerns.
This is one of the main reasons why hobbies are important.
To take advantage of this, choose an interest with inherent goals and one that is not related to work. Bowling, for instance, gives us a personal best score to try and beat. That helps take the mind off work.
2: They increase productivity by making us use time more efficiently
Another benefit of hobbies is that they train us to schedule our time, and this makes us more productive.
Scheduling activities in this way forces us to work more efficiently on other things.
Science tells us that when we give ourselves more time to finish work, we intentionally use all that time even if we don’t need to. In other words, give yourself eight hours to tie a knot, and you will take eight hours tying a knot.
Sounds confusing, right?
Naval historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson, the author of 60 books, came up with Parkinson’s Law of Time. This law states that the amount of time taken to complete a piece of work will expand depending on the amount of time we give to it.
In other words, if you allow yourself 100 hours to complete a project that could be done in 10 minutes, you will intentionally take 100 hours to get it done.
Scheduling activities in this way forces us to work more efficiently on other things.
One way to take advantage of this is to choose a hobby that will demand a certain amount of time.
Running a marathon, for instance.
Marathons demand a certain amount of training. Taking those hours away from work means we have to be more efficient when working
3: They exercise the brain
Another benefit of hobbies for mental health: Hobbies exercise the brain
Many people get stuck in a repetitive routine, doing the same thing continually.
Workaholics, for instance, are always working, and most forms of work only include a set number of mental activities. Sure, a career in finance tests our math and business skills, but there are many areas of the brain that are not used at all.
Activities can complement your work by exercising your brain in different ways.
Here’s how to take advantage of this:
- If you work in a logical, order-based role, find a creative hobby.
- If you’re a professional artist, find one that’s more logic and order based.
- If you’re always working alone, find a social activity.
- If you’re always with other people, find one that provides you with alone time.
Choose hobbies that compliment your current lifestyle. This will exercise your brain in new ways and teach you new skills.
4: Some are good for anxiety and help us flow
One common pitfall that many people fall into (myself included) is that they spend too long being passive.
They’re idly using Facebook (and Facebook is unhealthy). They’re channel hopping, etc.
This kind of activity decreases self-awareness and can lead to mental health problems like anxiety.
It is far healthier to focus on one activity and to truly get wrapped up in it. This distracts us from stresses and worries and helps us to relax.
Choose activities that you can get fully wrapped-up in such that you forget about stresses.
Running and yoga are two of the best hobbies for mental health. They make me want to improve myself. When I’m doing either I get completely engrossed in them. They’re total chill-out fests.
5: Good pastimes help us make new friends
One of the best benefits of hobbies is that they are a fantastic way of making new friends, new connections, and possibly even new romances.
Take acting, for instance.
I first got into acting when I was at university. I didn’t get along with many people on my course. So I took extracurricular lessons, including acting.
Within a few months, I was part of an acting group, and we were working on a show together.
There were 20 people in the show. And we all hang out together once a week. Twenty new friends from one pastime. That’s one heck of a return on investment.
Choosing a social hobby can quickly improve your social network, and this has enormous benefits on mental health.
6: Good pastimes give us something to talk about
How many times have you been in a situation where you want to talk to someone, but you have no clue what to talk about? Leisure activities change that.
You go to a party. You know no one there. Someone asks you about yourself. You tell them about an exciting leisure pursuit you have. Bingo! You’re immediately interesting. You have something to talk about. And the other person can easily start asking you questions:
“Tell me about you?” they ask.
“I’m Paul, and I commentate at video game tournaments for fun”. (which is true, by the way).
“Woah… really?” (They are genuinely interested). “How does that work?”
The rest of the conversation is easy.
As someone who has suffered from shyness, this is one of my favourite benefits of hobbies. They give you something to talk about.
7: They help with stress
It is unhealthy to focus too much attention on any one thing. Doing so wears us out, gives us a warped perspective, and narrows our view on life.
Plus, when we put all your eggs in one basket we set ourselves up for stress.
Stress is one of the main killers. So this is one of the main reasons why hobbies are important for health.
Leisure activities give us an opportunity to focus on something else. And to a degree, it doesn’t matter what the hobby is, provided it takes the mind off of stress.
One way to capitalise on this benefit is to choose a pastime that is not remotely related to work.
To find a good hobby for stress reduction, choose one that is the opposite of your work. That way we will not be reminded of the office when we’re doing a pastime.
For instance, kayaking. Kayaking is one of the best hobbies for relaxation and exercise.
8:They can bring passive income
I personally believe it’s best to leave money to your career and to choose a hobby for the pleasure / health benefits. But we can’t ignore the fact that a hobby could potentially bring-in extra income.
When I started commentating video game tournaments I did so for sheer pleasure. I was not thinking about making money or any sort of career prospects. It was a fun thing to do, that’s all.
Recently, however, I’ve started making money from commentating. Only a little. But every little helps. And there could potentially be more of it down the line.
Some extra income? Now that’s a nice additional benefit of hobbies.
This is not one of the most important reasons why hobbies are important, in my opinion, but it is a nice bonus.
Blogging, for instance. There is definitely a chance to make money blogging (provided you put a lot of effort in and are a little lucky).
9: Beat depression
This is one of my favourite reasons why hobbies are so important in 2020.
I’m going to whole-heartedly confess that I’ve been in my lounge for the past five hours. That’s partly because we’re in the middle of an extreme heat warning. But I’m also having an idle day.
One idle day is fine. Too many will choke the life right out of the soul.
Leisure activities can help.
One of the benefits of hobbies for mental health is that they get us out of the house. This can help to reduce stress, anxiety and depression.
Many pastimes demand that we visit new places. Photography, for instance. If we want to take photos of nice areas, we have to… errr… go to nice areas.
Or team sports. We will have to visit your competitor’s field / ice rink / gym.
Or walking / hiking.
I could go on.
Lots of leisure activities demand that we visit new areas. And that’s a fantastic reason to get out of the house and go somewhere new. Novelty is extremely important for mental health (READ: What’s New? Exuberance For Novelty Has Benefits). It’s important to not spend too much time in the same place. Hobbies motivate us to visit new areas.
Here’s how to choose the best hobby for your mental health
Different hobbies offer different benefits. Answer these questions to find the perfect hobby for you.
- What are you currently missing?
If there was one thing you would like to add to your current lifestyle, what would it be? More social time? Competition? Relaxation? What hobby would fill that gap?
- What health need could your hobby help with?
Are you getting enough cardio? Exercising your brain enough? Spending enough time outdoors? How could a leisure activity help with this?
- What one interest would you like to further?
We all have many different interests. Most hobbies come from choosing one interest and running with it. What are you most interested in? How can you turn that into a pastime?
- What skill would you like to have?
You will likely become pretty good at your hobby. With that in mind, five years down the line, which leisure activity would you be happiest that you dedicated time to?
- What social groups would you like to be involved with? How could your hobby help?
Pastimes are a fantastic way of getting involved with new social groups. What kind of people would you like to spend time with? What hobby will give you those connections?
The best hobbies for happiness in 2020
Hobbies offer big benefits for happiness. And they are an easy way to improve wellness.
But what are the absolute best hobbies for health and happiness?
The Best 10 Hobbies For Mental Health And Happiness
There are over 100 scientifically proven mental health benefits of meditation.
As a meditation teacher, I’ve personally seen how practising meditation can quickly and powerfully create happiness, physical and mental health, and of course, relaxation. And there are many more things meditation can help with, too.
If you spend just 20 minutes a day meditating it will have a massive impact on your life. Promise. Take a look at that link above. After reading it I virtually guarantee you will start meditating.
Is it just a coincidence that mental health issues are on the rise at the same time that dance is in decline?
More people have mental health issues now than ever in history, and fewer people are dancing.
Think about your average black and white 50s movie. People danced in it. And they were happy. Not today. Now no one dances and not many people are genuinely happy.
Anecdotal evidence, true. But dancing is definitely good for mental health.
In fact, dancing is one of the best hobbies for mental health.
Scientific research has proven that dance can help with everything from happiness, to Parkinson’s disease, to neurological movement disorders.
In a 2008 edition of Scientific American, a neuroscientist at Columbia University wrote that dance simulates the brain and activates sensory and motor circuits to create a “pleasure double play”. (Source: Harvard).
Positron Emission Tomography imaging (a process that takes images of metabolic processes in the body) shows that dance activates specific regions of the brain.
Dance activates regions of the brain associated with coordination, planning, control, movement, and hand-eye coordination. And all of these are improved by dancing.
A 2003 study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that dancing boosts brain health. The test compared dance to swimming, cycling, golf, tennis, and other physical activities. The researchers concluded that dance is the only physical activity (out of the ones they tested) to reduce the risk of dementia.
Another study in 2012 by North Dakota’s Minot State University showed that Zumba improves emotions, boosts happiness, and enhances cognitive skills like visual recognition.
Dancing makes us happy. Simple. Now I gotta cut loose. Footloose. Kick off the Sunday shoes.
Acting is one of the best hobbies for mental health. But it can also cause psychological problems.
The Benefits of Acting As A hobby:
- Amateur acting is generally fantastic.
- Joining a theatre group is a great way to make new friends.
- Learning lines is good for memory.
- When we perform, we become more mindful of the way we move the body, which is fantastic for mindfulness.
- And putting on a live show is a brilliant way of getting out of your shell, especially if, like me, you suffer from shyness.
As an actor, I started as an amateur and became a professional.
My amateur career was fun and healthy. Amateur dramatics were fantastic for my mental health. I joined a theatre group, made friends, socialised, learned new plays, and put on great shows. It was all so good.
Then I turned pro.
Turning pro means doing pro things, things like method acting.
As a professional actor, I’ve used many different acting techniques, such as Stanislavski’s “method”. These techniques train us to bring up highly emotional memories to create emotional states that we then use in a show. This can be a cathartic practice. But it can also cause emotional trauma.
When I was preparing for Hamlet, I got far too into the role.
I was method acting Hamlet every day.
It got to the point where I actually hallucinated that I was inside an old castle in Denmark with Cladius having just killed my dad. And no, there were no narcotics involved in this incident, we’re not talking River Phoenix in the Viper Room here.
Repeatedly digging up emotional memories made me genuinely depressed. And I’m not alone. There are countless stories of actors who experienced psychological disorders as a result of acting.
But back to the point: Amateur dramatics is a fantastic hobby for happiness, and incredibly healthy for the mind.
4. Mind-body exercises (yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong)
Mind-body exercises like yoga Tai Chi and Qigong, exercise both body and mind and are wonderfully relaxing.
Scientific research shows that Qigong, Tai Chi, and yoga are effective ways of stopping anxiety, depression, and mood disorders.
Though research is in its infancy, some studies suggest that Tai Chi and Qigong are both effective ways of treating insomnia, cognitive impairment and even Parkinson’s disease.
The 15 million people who practice yoga in North America are also boosting their physical and mental health and happiness.
Yoga is fantastic for weight loss, pain management, illness, strength and flexibility (And 90% of people say they start yoga as a way to manage stress and improve mood.
Yoga slows down the heartrate, lowers blood pressure, and increases heartrate variability. At the same time, it increases neurotransmitters and boosts GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA helps get us out of a narrow-minded perspective and reduces the symptoms of stress and anxiety. One single hours of yoga increases GABA by 27%.
Yoga also helps with depression. One scientific study showed that 20 sessions of yoga reduced anger and elevated mood in those with major depression disorder
My advice? Choose at least one mind-body exercise to do at least once a week for an hour (my choice is yoga. How about you?
5. Walking / Hiking / Running in nature
Wondering how good running is for you?
Researchers at Stanford have proven what we’ve all known for years: getting out of the streets and into nature boosts happiness and lowers the risk of depression.
The study, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, stated that 90 minutes in a natural area decrease activity in the region of the brain associate with depression.
The researchers asked a group of participants to walk either through a forested area or next to a busy main road. They then tested the participants’ heartrates and neural activity. The group who walked in the forested area had reduced activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain associate with negative emotions where the other group did not (source: Stanford).
This is especially important news for the more than 50% of the world’s population living in urbanity.
City dwellers are 40% more likely to have mood disorders, 20% more likely to experience anxiety disorders, and twice as likely to develop schizophrenia.
Walking and hiking are two of the best hobbies for mental health. But running may be even better, especially at preventing and treating depression.
When we run evolution takes over.
We start running and the reptilian brain interprets this as meaning we are in a fight or flight situation (this is why we feel excited when we start running). This fight or flight response initially creates stress. The body reacts by releasing Brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein. This protein creates calm and alertness, making us feel cheerful.
Another reason running is a good pastime for happiness is because it allows us to set goals, like personal best times or distances. This gives us something positive to work towards, and a sense of motivation and achievement.
Running gets even better when we run as a group, especially a supportive group. This makes us even happier and improves relationships with the people we run with.
Walking is great too.
Research has proven that there are huge benefits that come from just taking a walk.
6. Art / Writing / Photography
It’s important to exercise your creative brain. Hobbes can help.
Art, writing, and photography are all leisure activities with very similar benefits.
Artistic hobbies are a fantastic way of exercising the creative brain. They train the brain to be more creative and more expressive. And they are usually relaxing.
The past few decades have seen the rise of art-based therapy: art therapy, drama therapy, dance therapy… these therapies prove that artistic hobbies can help improve mental health.
Artistic hobbies are good for happiness too. They make us more aware of the beauty in the world, give us a way to express ourselves, allow to create beautiful works, and teach us new skills.
There are two ways to make them even better.
For starters, try practising real-life art. Draw still life. Photograph beautiful and relaxing scenes. And write about pleasant experiences. This turns art into a mindfulness exercise.
Considerable research has proven that gardening is a good hobby for mental health. And little wonder. The flowers. The fresh air. Getting your hands dirty.
For starters, looking after plants is similar to looking after pets. It’s a responsibility. Something to care for.
I can remember the first time I was gardening. I was a week seven-year-old in primary school. All the kids were given a square foot of earth to plant what we like. I planted lavender because it reminded me of my grandma. And the whole time I had a big grin on my pudgy little face. Even for kids, gardening is a great hobby for happiness.
Gardening gives us a great perspective. Looking at all those beautiful trees and flowers reminds us that we are just one tiny little flower petal in this giant garden of a universe.
Group gardening adds to things.
Research in 2003 showed that the collective skills required for group gardening make it one of the best activities for those with mental health conditions and, interestingly, for prisoners too.
Let’s not forget how relaxing gardening is as well.
Whether we’re just looking at the flowers or rhythmically thrusting the spade into the earth, gardening is a truly therapeutic pastime.
Gardening is definitely one of the best hobbies for mental health
Let’s go get our hands dirty and plant something beautiful.
8. Spending time at the beach
Nothing feels better than putting your shorts (or bikini) on and hitting those golden sands on a warm day.
The moment we get to the beach the body releases serotonin, relaxing us, and the blue sea, even bluer sky, the swash of the ocean waves, and the seemingly infinite expanse of water calms us while the rays of sunlight give us some light therapy.
Getting enough vitamin D is important too. You’ll get your daily amount in just ten minutes of beach time on a warm day. That vitamin D is vital to physical and mental health and produces strong bone and happy minds.
The salt water in the sea is full of anti-fungal and antibacterial properties that can clear out infections (so long as the water is clean, of course—damn industrial pollutants). The water also contains iodine, which is antiseptic and helps boost the thyroid gland, upping the immune system.
While the water is working its miracles, the sand exfoliates the hands, feet and body, getting rid of those dead skin cells. And the sun opens-up the skin pores to detoxify us.
These are just some of the benefits of the beach. There’s also the swimming, socialising, the connecting with nature…
Spending time at the beach is unquestionably one of the best hobbies for happiness, and it’s great for our health too.
Nothing beats learning to cook for yourself.
Dana Valden, the author of the inspirational must-read Zen cooking book Finding Yourself In The Kitchen, says this:
“Cooking is compelling in part because of the physicality. It requires a kind of engagement that is both grounding and practical.”
Cooking brings together lots of cognitive processes.
- the creativity of creating a meal
- the practicality of following a recipe
- the mindfulness that comes from focusing on the senses (smells, sights etc) in the kitchen
- and the accomplishment of creating something beautiful.”
I personally cook at least once a day and often three times a day. I do this partly because I cannot stand processed food, partly because I .ove my own cooking, but mostly because it is so utterly rewarding.
I guess I’ve been doing culinary therapy, which is the new trend in mental health clinics.
Culinary therapy is used for treating many mental health disorders, including anxiety, ADHD, depression, eating disorders and addiction.
The reason cooking is one of the best hobbies for mental health isn’t just because of the healthier meals and nutrition, either.
There are many healthy psychological processes that take place when we cook.
- For starters, when we cook mindfully (meaning when we are intentionally fully-conscious of what we’re doing) we bring ourselves back into the present moment. You can read more about this in my guide to learning to cook for yourself.
- Then there’s the fact that cooking for ourselves makes us more aware and more appreciative of food in general. Many people eat mindlessly, which is bad both the gut and for the mind. Being more appreciative of food makes us enjoy it more and makes us more likely to choose healthy and natural foods.
- Then there’s the creativity. Cooking is a truly creative process, taking the ingredient from their raw state to a finished meal. It’s creativity that ends with a tasty treat.
Cooking is one of the best hobbies for happiness and health.
10. Altruism and compassion
For most people, altruism and compassion aren’t really hobbies, but they can be and quite probably should be.
Compassion and kindness are two of the best things for mental health. When we are compassionate we create better relationships, heighten self-love, improve our sense of self-worth, and increase our confidence.
There are many ways to start doing compassion as a hobby. Probably the best is to volunteer for a charity.
The benefits of volunteering include:
- It boosts self-worth
- Improves perspective
- Is a good way of making new friends and contacts
- Puts our problems in perspective
- Provides experience
- Protects against heart disease (source: PsychologyToday)
Volunteering is one of my favourite hobbies for happiness. Trust me, you get more than you give.
Want a leisure activity that will change your life? Try Aikido.
Aikido is the perfect martial-art for peace lovers, and especially for people who are into Eastern philosophy.
Aikido is a form of martial art that uses Qi (the “life force”) to harmonise body, mind and spirit.
Most martial arts are about attack and beating the enemy. Aikido is the opposite. It teaches that there is no enemy. Contests in Aikido are won by ending fight without harming the other person.
Aikido is a beautiful form of exercise for peace-loving individuals.
Which is your favourite?
Which of these happy hobbies most appeals to you? Which ones do you already do? And what other hobbies would you add to the list?
And for complete joy, read my ultimate guide to happiness.
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Six Reasons to Get a Hobby | Psychology Today Canada https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/happy-trails/201509/six-reasons-get-hobby
Association of Enjoyable Leisure Activities With Psychological and Physical Well-Being https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2863117/
How Picking Up a New Hobby Relieves Stress – Verywell Mind https://www.verywellmind.com/the-importance-of-hobbies-for-stress-relief-3144574
Why Hobbies Are Important? – Kettering University Online https://online.kettering.edu/news/2019/04/15/why-hobbies-are-important
Mental Health Benefits of Leisure Activities | Emotional Fitness https://u.osu.edu/emotionalfitness/2017/09/22/mental-health-benefits-of-leisure-activities/
The Case for Having a Hobby – The New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/10/smarter-living/the-case-for-hobbies-ideas.html