10 Weeks to Wellbeing: Week 4 – Hobbies & Learning

[First published in my Irish Sunday Mirror wellbeing column, 5th Oct ’14.]

Tracy Dempsey Wellbeing Column Sunday Mirror - Week 4 Hobbies and Learning

As adults with busy lives and lots of responsibilities, it’s easy to neglect making time for fun – but having fun is incredibly important for wellbeing. We can easily get burnt out with all work and no play, and hobbies and learning are fantastic sources of energy, relaxation, escapism or skill building. For many people, ‘learning’ is associated with stress, frustration, feelings of being ‘no good’ at something. But learning should be fun — and if it didn’t feel like fun the first time around, learning as an adult with the freedom to choose subjects and skills that are relevant and interesting for you can be a lot more enjoyable and rewarding. It can also hugely boost your confidence and self-image. We used to think of intelligence as fixed; that after a certain age the adult brains stops developing. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, went the saying. Then neuroscientists discovered that the brain is a lot more plastic than previously thought, that the adult brain continues to learn and adapt to new environments and technologies, and that you can actually rewire your brain through new learning¹.


Psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi has done extensive research on happiness. His theory of ‘flow‘ states that people are happiest when they are so engaged in a task that they lose track of time2. It’s the feeling of being ‘in the zone’ – when you’re being stretched, but not too much; the task isn’t so easy that you get bored, or so difficult that you get disheartened. Hobbies and learning can be a rich source of flow in your life, whether you’re doing something for pure enjoyment or to boost your career development (or even to make a second income).

Social Circles

Quite often, our social circles shrink due to life changes such as the end of a relationship, losing or changing jobs, moving to a new place. Finding like-minded people can feel harder in adult life than it did at school or university. Thankfully, new technologies have created a multitude of possibilities for finding interesting activities to do in your area, either by yourself or with others. Here are some of my favourites:

  • Meetup.com — a site where you can find meet-ups in your local area. People use it to arrange anything from film-lovers’ cinema trips to food-lovers’ restaurant trips; group meditations to hiking trips; language learner meet-ups to singles nights. If you don’t find a meet-up that interests you, you can create your own.
  • MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) – Multiple universities and other training providers now share their courses online for you to complete at home. Many of them are free, some of them are paid; some offer credits and certificates of completion, others are just for fun. Check out iTunes U (in iTunes), Coursera.org, EdX.orgUdemy.com, FutureLearn .com and even Groupon, where you can often find discounted courses.
  • YouTube – when money’s tight or you haven’t got much happening locally, YouTube can take the place of face-to-face classes or tuition. You can find great tutorials on topics such as home crafting, playing musical instruments, language learning, cookery and dance.
  • Podcasts – whatever your topic of interest, someone somewhere is probably podcasting about it. Search for podcasts on areas you’re interested in learning about and subscribe to get new episodes delivered to your computer or smartphone.
  • Smartphone apps – whatever your chosen hobby, there’s probably an app for that. Or twenty. There are also learning apps such as Flashcards+, iAnki, Memrise or Duolingo.

Of course, if you want to keep things old school, contact your local colleges and community and arts centres for information on current and upcoming courses. Or if you’d prefer a solitary pursuit, pick one you’d enjoy, gather any tools you might need for it and set aside time for it in your daily life.

Whatever you choose, have fun!


Next week: Love Life.

Read Week: 1 — Wheel of Life | 2 — Self | 3 — Health | 5 — Love Life | 6 — Career | 7 — Finances | 8 — Family & Social | 9 — Community & Environment | 10 — Making Change Stick


¹Mahncke, H. W., Bronstone, A., & Merzenich, M. M. (2006). Brain plasticity and functional losses in the aged: scientific bases for a novel intervention. Progress in brain research; 157:81-109.

2Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper and Row. ISBN 0-06-092043-2*

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