In today’s productivity-driven culture, we all suffer from too much productivity-related stress. Too many of us are stressed at work, and when this seeps into our personal lives, we become depressed and ultimately forget how to cultivate happiness.
And this is why it’s so important to have at least one creative hobby. Research shows that many creative hobbies have the power to improve our mental states — we’ll explore some of this evidence below — so it behooves us all to set aside some time every day for a bit of self-indulgent creative fun.
When apps that help relieve stress have become commonplace is when you know things have gone too far. The good news is, there are plenty of creative hobbies that you can start right now that will spur you towards a happier self.
Photography is a wonderful skill for anyone to pick up. Unlike most creative endeavors, which involve creating something out of nothing, photography is all about capturing the beauty that already exists around us — in nature, at home, or even on the streets.
Of all the reasons why everyone should learn photography, I think the most important is that it changes the way you see the world. Not only does it train you to see things from multiple perspectives, but it also gets you to see things that you normally overlook.
But more relevantly, photographs can invoke happiness:
Looking through photo albums makes you happier than chocolate, music, TV or even your favourite tipple, according to research revealed today by Orange.
The results show that the mood of those viewing photographs was consistently lifted by 11% during mood measuring tests whilst the groups who tried to eat, listen, watch, or drink their way to happiness registered a mere 1% increase.
Photography isn’t easy, so don’t expect this to be a walk in the park as far as learning curve is concerned. Photography is hard, but it’s one of the most satisfying and fulfilling skills you’ll ever learn.
Get Started Now: We recommend starting with these free YouTube photography channels and these photography communities on Reddit. Then you can sharpen your skills with these online photography courses and these highly effective Lynda.com courses.
After 8-10 hours in an office, it’s easy to feel like you don’t have much of a connection with the earth. But what if I told you that gardening has been scientifically proven to be able to lift your mood? Would that make you more likely to step outside and get down and dirty?
Consider this gardening study from the Netherlands:
After completing a stressful task, two groups of people were instructed to either read indoors or garden for 30 minutes. Afterward, the group that gardened reported being in a better mood than the reading group, and they also had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
The article goes on to explain how gardening might have huge benefits for those suffering from depression:
In a study conducted in Norway, people who had been diagnosed with depression, persistent low mood, or “bipolar II disorder” spent six hours a week growing flowers and vegetables.
After three months, half of the participants had experienced a measurable improvement in their depression symptoms. What’s more, their mood continued to be better three months after the gardening program ended.
Why? Part of the reason could involve bacteria in the dirt:
There is evidence that a bacteria in the soil called Mycobacterium vaccae may lift spirits. When fed to mice, these seemingly harmless bacteria stimulated their immune system and boosted the production of serotonin.
Another study on an experimental treatment for lung cancer found patients who received inoculation of the bacteria had fewer symptoms and improved emotional health. Higher levels of serotonin improve mood.
Long-term exposure to M. vaccae from childhood may help build a healthy immune system. It may just be that playing in the dirt does make us happy.
Get Started Now: Gardening can be scary to learn for a newbie, but there are a handful of gardening websites and apps designed to help make it all easier. For the enthusiastic, consider looking into garden DIY and upcycling projects for some extra fun. And for the advanced, these smart gardening devices are surprisingly awesome.
Writing & Journaling
Writing is often associated with creative blocks and depression, and it’s not uncommon to hear stories about authors who were so tormented by their psyches that they ended up succumbing to suicidal thoughts, but these stories aren’t exactly the norm.
In fact, certain kinds of writing have real effects on our moods, our thoughts, our outlooks, and even our personalities. Consider a 1994 study on the effects of expressive writing on reemployment rates:
They divided the engineers into three groups. In the control group, the engineers did nothing unusual. The remaining engineers were randomly assigned to a second control group, where they wrote about time management, or an expressive writing group, where they kept a journal about their deepest thoughts and feelings associated with the job loss.
Both groups wrote for five days, 20 minutes per day, describing the emotional challenges of searching for a new job, relationship problems, financial stressors, the immediate experience of being fired, losing their coworkers and feeling rejected.
The engineers who wrote down their thoughts and feelings about losing their jobs reported feeling less anger and hostility toward their former employer. They also reported drinking less. Eight months later, less than 19% of the engineers in the control groups were reemployed full-time, compared with more than 52% of the engineers in the expressive writing group.
And in a separate study, researchers arrived at groundbreaking conclusions regarding stressful and traumatic events:
Although writing about trauma is uncomfortable in the short run, after approximately two weeks, the costs disappear and the benefits emerge and they last.
They’ve found decreases in depression, anxiety, anger, and distress. They’ve shown that writing about stressful experiences also reduces absenteeism from work among employees and increases grade point averages among students.
They’ve even found that emotionally expressive writing has objective immune system benefits. After writing about traumas, people show higher t-cell growth, better liver function, and stronger antibody responses to hepatitis B vaccinations and Epstein-Barr virus.
Expressive writing — and to a lesser degree, creative writing — could be the difference between a stressful you and a blissful you. Fortunately, expressive writing is easy enough for anyone to get into: all you need is a journal and a pen.
Get Started Now: For absolute beginners, we recommend our guide to digital journaling, but we’ve also highlighted other ways to keep a digital journal in the past so check them out for some great tips on getting started. Journaling can seem like a chore when you first start, so consider this 30-day challenge to develop a journaling habit.
Drawing & Painting
Like writing, art can be used as an expressive tool that helps us cope with stress and trauma. The term “art therapy” was coined back in 1942, and since then art therapy has been useful as one of many components in the treatment of psychological distress.
For example, a 2009 study found that art therapy successfully improved the moods of prison inmates:
Ongoing studies have revealed the positive effects of art therapy with prison inmates… specifically, the results demonstrated significant, positive change with both the male and female prison population in mood and locus of control.
What exactly is art therapy?
An art therapist may use a variety of art methods including drawing, painting, sculpture, and collage with clients ranging from young children to the elderly. Clients who have experienced emotional trauma, physical violence, domestic abuse, anxiety, depression, and other psychological issues can benefit from expressing themselves creatively.
In most art therapy sessions, the focus is on your inner experience—your feelings, perceptions, and imagination.
But even if you don’t go through art therapy proper, you can still reap some of the benefits. As it turns out, the actual act of drawing and painting also has a physical effect on your brain:
When you draw, dopamine is released. Dopamine is involved in the brain’s reward system, which also is the system associated with increasing creativity and lowering inhibitions… Drawing seems to cause neural interactions that give rise to pleasure.
…Thus, we feel rewarded when we create new objects or actions. And since creativity is based on the decisions made by the creator, the reward system kicks in when we are in control and inventing things that we have thought of ourselves. Freedom and ownership are part and parcel of the neurochemistry of the arts.
Get Started Now: These days, art is mostly digital. We recommend starting your journey with these Lynda.com courses for digital artists which teach Photoshop, Illustrator, and so much more. Also check out these YouTube channels that teach you how to draw for skills that can be applied across all art forms.
Cooking & Baking
Time spent in the kitchen might be a nightmare to you, but once you overcome your kitchen fears you’ll realize that cooking and baking are wonderful hobbies that can wash away stress and make you a happier person on multiple levels.
According to one health and wellness expert, the creative aspects of cooking makes us happier by activating the senses:
Cooking is a great destresser because it serves as a creative outlet. And while stress can numb your senses, cooking activates them. It’s a sensory experience with aroma, taste, touch, visual delight, and even sizzling sound.
She also says that cooking is a mental escape:
Cooking ensures such an intense involvement with an activity that it’s possible to forget, at least for a little while, about less than pleasant aspects of life.
This creative outlet allows people like you and me to channel undesirable or unhealthy energy into something productive and beautiful, as evidenced by one man who uses baking as a way to manage his manic depression:
Any structured non-stressful activity will help depression and increase well-being. Traditional occupational therapies generally work on a physical or projection platform.
For example, exercise sessions increase physical well-being and release endorphins that combat depression. Art therapy helps a patient project their depression through creating artwork; thereby helping a patient to better understand their condition. Baking can be seen as operating on both these platforms.
Plus, cooking your own meals from scratch is often healthier than eating out and it can help you slash your household expenses — two things that can help eliminate stress and thus improve your mental well-being.
Get Started Now: There’s no better place to start than these online cooking and baking classes, but these YouTube channels that teach how to cook are also great for beginners. Once you get the basics, play around with these fun culinary challenges.
What Are Your Creative Hobbies?
Being able to explore my own creative potential has made me a happier person, and I’m sure there are millions of others out there who can attest to the same thing. These creative hobbies aren’t just for fun; they have real, positive benefits for everyday people.
So isn’t it about time that you unlock your own creative potential? A happier life awaits just around the corner.
Do you have any creative hobbies? Which ones have had the most impact on your mental well-being? Are you planning on picking up any others? Share with us in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you.