It doesn’t matter if it’s stamp-collecting, woodworking, fishing or knitting — hobbies, the activities people pursue in their free time for fun, can help them feel less lonely and relieve their symptoms of depression.
For this reason, many countries have promoted hobbies as a way to improve mental health and wellbeing, particularly among their older citizens. Past studies have looked at data from individual countries, but it has been unclear if the benefits of hobbies would remain consistent across different countries with different cultures.
An international team of researchers recently analyzed data from more than 93,000 people in the U.S. and 15 countries in Europe and Asia. They found the connection between having a hobby and mental wellbeing existed across countries and in different regions of the world.
Offering opportunities for leisure activities could be an important way to improve citizens’ healthy life expectancy among different demographic groups and in countries around the world. If people are able to maintain a good quality of life for longer periods of time, it could relieve some of the burden that aging populations place on healthcare systems worldwide. The researchers point out that, “Given the relative universality of the findings, ensuring equality in hobby engagement within and between countries should be a priority for promoting healthy aging.”
People who reported pursuing a hobby also reported better health and higher levels of life satisfaction and happiness — and fewer symptoms of depression — than those who did not have a hobby.
Participants were enrolled in one of five long-term studies of people 65 and older. Their average age was between 72 and 76 years old. People who pursued a hobby reported better health and higher levels of life satisfaction and happiness — and fewer symptoms of depression — than those who did not have a hobby. Even adjusting for employment, relationship status and household income did not change these findings.
There were some global differences, however. The percentage of people with hobbies varied depending on where they lived — 51 percent of participants in Spain said they had a hobby; 96 percent of people in Denmark reported they did. Older citizens of countries with high scores on surveys of world happiness and longer life expectancies, such as Switzerland, Japan, Sweden and Denmark, were the most likely to have hobbies.
The findings are based on self-reported data and so it is not possible to prove a direct cause-and-effect relationship between hobbies and mental wellbeing in those over 65, but future studies can look into how factors such as the type of hobbies people have and how often they engage in those hobbies to better understand activities’ effects on mental wellbeing.