How to become hobby happy: try something new and boost your mood

As a new study suggests hobbies can help you live a happier life in retirement, we explain which pastimes do the trick, and how to find an activity you love.

Do you have a hobby? If you do, you probably already recognise the feelgood factor that chatting with your book club, a dip in chilly water or going to the gym brings. Now new research suggests there are even more benefits to your favourite hobby.

Enjoying a hobby in your 60s can help ward off depression, according to a new study of more than 90,000 people aged 65 and over from 16 countries including England, the USA and Japan, most of whom were retired.

It found that more hobby engagement led to a decrease in symptoms of depression and people also reported they were more satisfied with health, happiness and life. Other benefits reported include feeling in control of their minds and bodies and feeling competent in tackling daily issues, as well as having purpose. Those results spanned not only the healthy respondents, but those who were living with a long-term mental or physical health condition.

Two women paintingCredit: Shutterstock / Monkey Business Images

Reading, playing games and gardening: all good for you

Hobbies were defined by the study as activities that people did for pleasure during their leisure time. These included arts, crafts, reading, puzzles and gardening, as well as social activities such as sport, volunteering and being part of a club, which help to combat loneliness and isolation.

More than 60% of the participants had long-standing mental or physical health issues, and hobby take-up among the over-65s varied from country to country. People who live in countries with a higher life expectancy such as Denmark are more likely to have a hobby. For example, 96% of Danes reported they did, compared to only half of those in Spain – although the study did not specifically look at the relationship between hobbies and life expectancy.

Nature-based activities and volunteering were found to be particularly beneficial. 

The study authors said: “Our results suggest that having a hobby may have the potential to be associated with improvements in health among the older population cross-culturally. This has policy and health implications for adults over 65, especially those who are retired.”


Why hobbies are so important in retirement

Chartered psychologist Catherine Hallissey looked at the findings and told Saga Exceptional: “The research is very clear and it confirms what common sense already tells us. We all feel better when we have a purpose and outside interests. When you move into your retirement years and work is removed, it’s incredibly important to find a new purpose in life.”

She advises people to start thinking about hobbies and interests in the lead-up to retirement to make the transition easier – and even making a five-year plan to smooth the way.

“Feeling like you belong is particularly important in retirement, because a lot of us make our social connections through work, and you might be suddenly left with a vacuum,” she said. “So it’s a fantastic idea to start thinking about this and building up your interests as early as you can.

“I recommend having a five-year plan on the lead-up to your retirement where you think about your hobbies and interests. How can you lay that groundwork so you don’t have to make a huge change and start joining social groups once you’ve retired. Instead, gradually use your time to foster your other interests so it’s not such a shock to the system when you suddenly retire.”

Five ways to find a hobby that’s right for you

Thinking of taking up a new activity? Chartered psychologist Catherine Hallissey explains how to find one that suits you.

1. Find your joy

“There are so many different types of things we can do and there’s something for everybody. It’s just a matter of finding the right one that brings us joy. For lots of people, their main hobby is reading. It could be something simple such as sudoku or looking at birds in your garden.”

2. Go back to basics

“If you’re trying to decide what hobby is right for you, it’s really good just to think back to what you enjoyed as a child. What brought you joy before all the ‘shoulds’ and ‘have-tos’ got in the way?”

3. Adapt what you love

“If you have reduced mobility in your legs and hands, think about how you can modify doing what you love. Look for anything that brings you moments of enjoyment. That could be listening to music or researching a particular topic in history.”

4. Don’t put pressure on yourself

“Certain hobbies are associated with greater cognitive protection, for example learning a language or doing puzzles, but don’t get caught up in that: just think about what you enjoy.”

5. Join a group

“Anything that’s sociable is going to be so protective for your mental health because we know it’s improved by how connected you are. So if you’re doing something you enjoy with other people, that’s a double whammy because you’ve got the connection and the purpose.”

Hannah Verdier

Written by Hannah Verdier


Hannah Verdier writes about fitness, health, relationships, podcasts, TV and the joy of reinventing yourself at 50 and beyond. She’s a graduate of teenage music bible Smash Hits and has a side hustle as a fitness trainer who shows people who hated PE at school how to love exercise.

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