Want to Live Longer and Happier? Get a Hobby!

What do these things have in common: gardening, birdwatching, cycling, embroidery, back-packing, dancing, crocheting, playing an instrument, learning a language and rock polishing? They are all examples of hobbies – activities we pursue in our leisure time simply for the pleasure of pursuing them, with no thought of generating income or any other gain. Yet there is tremendous gain from engaging in a hobby.

Doing Something Fun Matters for Wellbeing

Recent longitudinal research revealed that across 16 nations, all other factors being accounted for, engaging in a hobby contributed significantly to healthy aging, in particular to better life expectancy and higher levels of happiness. In a word, doing something just for the fun of doing it matters to your health and well-being.

Why? We are multi-dimensional beings, and often, whatever we do – or did – as our primary occupation does not allow us an avenue for full expression. Yes, you’re a genius software creator, but that doesn’t mean you’re not also a dancer yearning for the joy of movement. Or you’re a nurse, but you’re also fascinated by birds and wish you could go birdwatching. Whether or not you’ve retired from your occupation, those parts of yourself that went unexpressed for so many years still want an opportunity to live, to thrive.

Whatever leisure time you have available to you, now is when to take advantage of it, to engage in an activity – just because it makes you happy to do it. But first, you have to find that activity. That’s where too many of us get stuck.

When we don’t immediately think of something we’d like to do (vegging beach-side on a tropical island doesn’t count), we retreat to the couch and channel surf. That isn’t an answer, since “engagement” is the keyword. The reason many people die soon after retirement isn’t because they’re old; they’re not – lots of people live way past the official retirement age. It’s generally because they no longer have something to do that requires engagement.

What do you do if there’s nothing that sparks your interest? How do you figure out what will please you “just because”?

Look Around You

Who’s doing what in the world? Not just in your neighborhood, but in the global neighborhood. Through my study of some 700 seniors in their 70s, 80s, 90s and beyond, I’ve discovered an astonishing array of activities enjoyed by seniors around the world.

These are not all individuals in splendid health. These seniors may have cancer and other such ailments. Others have had knee and hip replacements and some even live with Alzheimer’s. No matter, they have found activities that engage them and thus keep them alive and thriving.

What Has Piqued Your Interest Over the Years?

Ever wanted to grow tomatoes? Want to travel? Go kayaking? Make a quilt? Take up painting? Nothing is stopping you. What did you dream about when you were a child? An adolescent? Anything is possible, just not necessarily in the exact way you dreamt it. A friend of mine who wanted to be a rock star and never pursued that dream, at 70 plays the occasional local gig with his friends, all of whom are in their 70s and who practice in his garage.

Try It, You Might Like It

If something intrigues you, even mildly, try it. Do it once or twice. Take a class. Go to a meet-up. If you like whatever it is, stick with it for about a month. Often, it takes time to get into the swing of something. If you don’t enjoy it after a month or so, try something else. After all, you’re doing this, “just because,” not as a forever career choice.

You Don’t Have to Be Good at It

You just have to enjoy it. Certainly, if competing brings you joy, then get good at whatever you decide to do – but only if the competitive angle pleases you. Otherwise, be happy playing “chopsticks” rather than Chopin concertos.

Sometimes a Hobby Turns into a Passion

That’s what happened to Richard Morgan, who at 93, not only has the documented heart, muscles and lungs of someone half his age but is a four-time world champion of indoor rowing. Interestingly, it’s only because one of his grandsons, noticing that Richard, then 73, was at loose ends after retiring, suggested he try indoor rowing. What could have been simply a hobby, turned into a passion, one that Richard is fully engaged in – body, mind and spirit – with obvious impressive results.

Your hobby may or may not turn into a passion. What matters is that you take pleasure in it, and with that, increase your chances of a long, happy, healthy life.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What have you dreamed of doing but haven’t yet tried? What hobbies did you begin in your later years? What impact have they made on your life?

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