By Bev Bachel
Don’t just retire, retire to something. That’s the advice of many retirees I’ve talked with recently. And what are they retiring to? Hobbies.
According to experts, hobbies in retirement can go a long way to ensuring a happy post-career life. They’re enjoyable, of course, plus they offer a host of mental and physical health benefits, including increased self-esteem, improved focus and better stress management.
What hobby is right for you?
“I’ve always liked to doodle and draw,” says Nancy Guenther, Penn Valley, Calif., who, last winter, after seeing a friend’s paintings posted on Facebook, got motivated to dig out her watercolors.
An ad for beehives is what inspired Clint and Erika Johnson, Medford, Mass., to take up their new hobby: beekeeping. “We saw the ad, did some research and before long were driving home with 30,000 bees in the back of our car,” says Clint.
Kate Holden’s ancestry is what led to her hobby, the tin whistle. “The tin whistle is associated with Scotland and my distant ancestry is Scottish, so I liked the idea of learning to play Scottish songs such as “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean,” says Holden of Oakdale, Minn.
These are just three examples but, as this Wikipedia list shows, there are hundreds more hobbies to choose from, any of one of which can deliver a range of important benefits:
Benefit #1: Hobbies make us healthier. Studies show that time spent on leisure activities is correlated with lower blood pressure, less depression and stress, and overall better psychological and physical functioning.[i]
Benefit #2: Hobbies promote flow. Left to our own devices, we often opt for mindless activities such as TV watching and Twitter scrolling. There’s nothing wrong with that in moderation, but we’re much more invigorated by active leisure, the sort of things psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls flow activities.
If you’ve ever lost yourself in a sport, art project or other challenging activity, you’ve experienced flow. When you do, you feel fully engaged, self-consciousness disappears and time flies.
Benefit #3: Hobbies foster new connections. While some hobbies are solitary endeavors, many lead us to meeting new people and forming new bonds, even if those bonds are now virtual because of the pandemic. Hobbies help us create important new ties to replace those we lose when we no longer see our work colleagues on a daily basis. Countless studies show that these new ties are key to both happiness and a meaningful retirement.
Benefit #4: Hobbies make us interesting. For many, retiring means letting go of a long-held career identity. Hobbies add richness to our self-concept and give us something to talk about. They’re a way of staying engaged. And when you’re engaged, you not only feel more alive, others find you more interesting.
Benefit #5: Hobbies help us keep things in perspective. The benefits of hobbies can spill over into other aspects of your life as well. If you can designate an hour a day or even a few hours a week for a hobby you feel truly inspired and enlivened by, retirement will be far more fulfilling.
Tips from hobbyists
Ready to find a hobby that’s right for you? Here are three tips:
- It’s never too late to start…or to change. When it comes to painting, Guenther has only one regret—that she didn’t start sooner. And even though she started with acrylic painting, she wasn’t happy with the result. So she switched to watercolors and hasn’t looked back.
- Scale your ambitions to your abilities. The Gustafsons started off small, giving away their honey to family and friends. But as they learn more, they hope to sell their honey at local farmers’ markets.
- Social media can be your friend. Part of an active Facebook group, Holden values being able to post videos of herself playing “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” and other songs. “I get encouragement from whistle players around the world and that motivates me to practice and helps me feel connected to others,” says Holden.
Bev Bachel is a freelance writer whose hobbies include journaling, painting, writing letters to friends and watching YouTube videos on investing.