Want to be happier? Learn something new

Join our growing tribe of readers who are choosing to spread joy by creating Happiness Clubs around the world, with guidance from Psychologies and Action for Happiness. Here, Suzy Greaves focuses on lifelong learning


Want to be happier? Learn something new

The number of Happiness Clubs founded by readers is 798, and is growing every month. It’s a joy to read our Happiness Clubbers’ blogs about their events up and down the country and internationally. ‘The group has been truly wonderful. I have made new friends and certainly feel happier for creating it,’ says Caroline Ley in Essex. ‘We all had a happier month,’ says Kirsty Morgan, about her Happiness Club in Leeds. ‘A good opportunity to connect and get to know a few more people,’ says Haris Tzortzis in Singapore.

What’s working for me is making a monthly commitment. No matter how busy, it’s a date I refuse to skip. Why? Well, apart from having a fun night, I also seem to be creating ‘happiness habits’, which are having a small but significant effect on my life. Letting traffic in (part of my giving month), afternoon tea with my friends (part of my connecting month), walking 10,000 steps a day (part of my exercising month) and listening to birdsong (part of my mindfulness month) are all creating a new happier framework for my days.

Learn something new

This week, our focus is on learning new things. Why will this make us happier? ‘It’s actually a core need for psychological wellbeing. Learning can help us build confidence and a sense of self-efficacy. It can also be a way of connecting with others too,’ says Vanessa King, positive psychology expert at Action for Happiness. ‘As human beings, we have a natural desire to learn and progress. Psychologists call it mastery.’

There is evidence* to suggest that adult learning seems to have its most positive impact on self-esteem and self-efficacy when the learning provided meets the needs of the learner, and when the learner is at a stage in their life when they are ready and receptive to benefit from it. The studies suggest that positive effects of education on happiness and wellbeing result from a variety of processes, which may include higher income, non-alienating work, household composition, health behaviours, use of health services, emotional resilience, social capabilities and, among older adults, better physical health.

‘Learning also fuels our creativity. Ideas can come from making connections between seemingly unrelated things,’ says King. ‘Learning something new in one area of our lives can trigger ideas in another. So curiosity and creative thinking go hand-in-hand.’

This can also help with creating what psychologists call ‘flow’ or ‘being in the zone’ – when we’re so absorbed in what we’re doing, we lose sense of time and of ourselves. ‘It’s not passive, like when watching TV – it’s active,’ explains King. When we’re in flow, the level of challenge in the activity just exceeds our level of skill. We’re also getting instant feedback from the activity on whether what we are trying is working, so we can adjust what we’re doing accordingly. As our skill increases, so does the challenge. During flow, we generally don’t feel anything – so intense is our focus – but afterwards we might feel a sense of deep satisfaction and a boost from having increased our skill or achieved something. ‘In some ways it’s a form of mindfulness; being totally focused on the present, so we get the benefits of that, too,’ says King.

Do we have to go back to school?

‘Lifelong learning is not just about academic studies and formal qualifications. A fun thing to try might be a skills swap with a friend or neighbour – do they have knowledge you’d like to learn and vice versa? Could you ask someone to be your gardening coach to teach you the difference between a weed and a wallflower?’ asks King. Think about what might work for you. How about taking up a new hobby or broadening your skills and knowledge in an area that interests you? ‘There are loads of free online courses, too,’ King adds. ‘It’s never been easier to learn something new.’

What is a Happiness Club?

A book club-style gathering in your own home where you invite friends along to discuss how you can put happiness – your own and other people’s – at the heart of your life philosophy. With our Happiness Clubs, Psychologies and charity Action for Happiness are working together on a shared vision to create a happier and less self-centred world for everybody, with far fewer people suffering from mental health problems and far more people feeling good, functioning well and helping others. To create your own happiness club, click here.

Questions to discuss at your Happiness Club

Photograph: iStock