How to Find a Hobby That Will Fill Your Life with Joy
Hobbies can help you beat stress and keep your mind sharp. Here's how to connect with a pastime you're passionate about.
How to find a hobby you’ll love
As kids, we’re constantly introduced to new activities in school: art, exercise, exploration and so much more. But exposure to things we may love and be good at doesn’t come quite as easily when we’re adults. Still, even if inspiration and free time are scarce, it’s well worth figuring out how to find a hobby you love. Research shows that connecting with a leisurely pastime enhances your life far more than just spending an afternoon doing something fun. It can have significant cognitive and mental health benefits too.
According to a study published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics in 2020, adult hobbies help lessen feelings of depression and make people feel more relaxed, creative and energetic. And if you don’t have a jam-packed schedule every day, there are extra benefits: Research from the American Psychological Association found that more than five hours of free time a day can chip away at your well-being. (You know that old saying about idle hands.) But it also found that time spent engaging in hobbies negated that effect.
Not sure how to find a hobby? Here are 11 ways to spark ideas that will help you find a new rewarding passion. Doing this one thing for yourself—whether you’re setting goals in an entirely new endeavor, volunteering or building your community—can help you figure out how to be happier and set you on the path to doing just that.
Why hobbies are good for you
We’ve already mentioned that hobbies are scientifically good for your mood, but there’s another beneficial angle to regularly engaging in passion pursuits: social connection. According to Utah State University, both group and team hobbies provide important opportunities for friendship and support—and studies show that strong social ties are associated with a longer life. Plus, because you know you have things in common with your fellow hobbyists, pursuing a pastime can make the bonds you forge even stronger.
Even if your hobbies aren’t social, there is still great value in them. Most of us have a lot of responsibilities weighing on us, and a solo hobby that brings you joy can take some of the edge off that burden. “It provides an escape from the stress of a job or situation that you can’t get away from,” says the Rev. Josh Snyder, a Unitarian Universalist minister in Akron, Ohio. In other words, it puts fun and joy at the forefront of your brain, making less room for feelings of worry and anxiety.
Find time for it
We could go on and on about busy schedules, but there are certain things that are worth putting in the hours for. Beyond the mood-boosting benefits we’ve already mentioned, losing yourself in a hobby you love gives your brain a break from your worries. Plus, throwing yourself into a new project can also improve your sense of accomplishment and self-worth. “Learning a new skill as an adult, not because you have to but because you want to, demonstrates that you can take in and process new information and improve upon it,” says licensed psychologist Carolyn Rubenstein, PhD. In short, it feels good to know that you’ve still got what it takes to master—or at least attempt—a new hobby.
As for the time you need? Regardless of how busy we are, we all still find time to waste. Haven’t we all lost an entire weekend to binge-watching streaming television at one point or another? (We’re looking at you, COVID-19 stay-at-home recommendations.) Look at your schedule, see what you can trim to make room for hobbies and consider doing a digital detox. Wouldn’t indoor gardening or baking be more rewarding than reorganizing your basement again or scrolling through TikTok?
Embrace trying something new
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t find the perfect hobby right away. Be open to trying new things—and be willing to fail while you’re still learning. Look at a new hobby as a welcome refuge from feelings of perfectionism that you may have about your home, family and career.
We don’t all pick the perfect things straight out of the gate. “When you shop for a pair of shoes, you try them on before you buy them,” says Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, a psychologist in New York City. “You have to see if they are a fit. This is the same mindset to have when trying something new. You’re gathering data. Look at this as your attempt at making progress on something you aren’t good at … yet.”
Consider a hobby with extra benefits
If you’re not sure what hobby to throw yourself into, choosing one that boosts your brain could be the deciding factor. If that sounds like a plan, pick an activity that’s cerebral. Whenever you solve a crossword puzzle or dive into a book, for example, you give your brain cells a genuine workout.
According to a 2021 study from International Psychogeriatrics, one of the many benefits of reading is that it keeps your brain healthy: People who spend an hour or more reading a week are less likely to develop dementia later in life. Is your brain already showing some signs of fog? Don’t let that stop you. Another team of researchers found that regularly attempting a daily crossword puzzle may help slow mild cognitive impairment in people who already have it.
Channel your inner child
Let’s circle back to all the new things you got to try out in grade school. If you loved art class but chose a career that isn’t visually creative, select a hobby that taps into your inner Picasso. Did you play the piano? Get a used keyboard and start plunking those keys again. Did you ride your bike every day? Get into the healthy habit of exploring your neighborhood on wheels. Bonus: An active hobby makes your heart healthier too!
Looking back to a simpler time may help you uncover forgotten moments of joy that you will get to experience all over again. “At some point, life gets in the way, and we tend to drop the hobbies we once enjoyed as children,” says Rubenstein. “When we have a chance or make a point to revisit them, there is a muscle and brain memory that brings us back to our youth, regardless of our current age.”
Draw inspiration from your daily life
Start paying close attention to what you enjoy doing. Maybe it’s reading, testing out new recipes or trying to solve the latest viral riddle. If you’re still stumped by how to find a hobby, ask friends or loved ones what they’ve noticed about you.
“It’s often hard to analyze oneself or view yourself the way others do,” says Rubenstein. “Your friends might view you as hilarious, while you might not think much of your sense of humor. Therefore, they might suggest a comedy improv class. Or perhaps they notice what a great job you do editing your Instagram reels. They might think of a film class for you. As humans, we tend to downplay our attributes internally. True friends will call out the things you excel in and enjoy, then direct you to hobbies that correlate logically.”
You just need a tiny spark of an idea to get going. Let’s say that’s reading. It could lead you to a whole range of adult hobby options, from starting a book club (real or virtual) to volunteering at a library to taking a writing class.
Choose something that distracts you from your worries
If you’re not into the idea of picking up a hobby just to occupy your downtime, try to think of something that makes you forget about the stresses of your day. It should be an activity that helps you relax. If crocheting or learning a new language feels like it would be work, then that’s probably not going to be a good choice for a hobby.
A physical hobby that requires you to exert yourself, like exercise or gardening, can be a great mind-clearing activity. Losing yourself in repetitive tasks gives you the chance to focus on what’s in front of you and nothing else. “With repetitive movement, such as knitting, more serotonin is released,” says Rubenstein. “This improves calmness and mood.” These ideas for maintaining a positive attitude can also help.
Browse for new interests online
Once you have an inkling of what hobby you’d like to try, Hafeez says sites like Meetup are a good place to explore your options. “Meetup groups allow you to find people who have common interests and meet regularly,” she says. “This leads to new friendships and the exchange of new ideas. When you share an interest with others, you are always encouraged to continue that hobby.”
Would you prefer your hobby to be a solo pursuit? There’s a blog or YouTube channel for pretty much every interest and skill under the sun. Browsing Pinterest is a great way to zero in on the bloggers and YouTube personalities who will inspire you to find the right activity.
Choose an activity that makes you feel productive
Some people might have a hard time doing idle tasks that serve no purpose other than being fun. You know that feeling: You’re not even following the plot of the movie because your mind is swirling with the things you should be getting done. If you’re always on the move and trying to hit a goal or better yourself, harness that energy to figure out how to find a hobby that fits those personality traits.
Have you dabbled with the idea of starting a gratitude journal? It may get you closer to your goal of synching up what you care about, what you like to do and how to spend your free time in a useful way.
Try something totally different
Most of our lives are fairly routine: work, family time, cleaning up a little, sleep. A new hobby is a great way to shake up the day-to-day mix and even learn something new. Learning French on Duolingo or taking up bonsai gardening is a way to add new spice to your life.
Take a look at the layout of a typical day and come up with a hobby idea that will be a fresh addition to the usual stuff. Do you spend a lot of time sitting or lying on a couch? Try something physical, like indoor rock climbing. Does your day job involve a lot of repetitive tasks at a computer? Choose something creative, like brewing your own beer. Are you a neat freak? Try something messy, like pottery or oil painting. One woman swears that doing karaoke at home is the true secret to happiness.
Channel your altruistic side
Whether you read to preschoolers, serve food at a soup kitchen or tend to a neighborhood park, you could get side benefits from a hobby that helps you help others. According to research, volunteering increases feelings of well-being and even improves your physical health.
If you’re trying to figure out how to find a hobby and don’t have a volunteer opportunity in mind, head to VolunteerMatch.org for the chance to rescue dogs, teach seniors Spanish or become a crisis text-line volunteer. (It’s searchable by location, interest and age group.) You can also ask about volunteer opportunities at your place of worship or local school.
Try a hobby with a friend
When you’re thinking of an activity you’d like to try, ask your buddies if they’re into the idea too. “You’ll be more inclined to try something new with someone who also wants to try that same thing,” says Hafeez. “If you’ve both never tried it before, it’s something you can experience together.”
You can also ask your friends and neighbors what hobbies they truly enjoy and see if any of them appeal to you. If you’re intrigued by someone’s stamp collection, hand-knitted sweaters or photography skills, you might have a new hobby buddy already!
Next, try these other small changes that can make you instantly happier at home.
Additional reporting by Catherine Holecko.
About the experts
- Rev. Josh Snyder is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Akron, Ohio.
- Carolyn Rubenstein, PhD, is a licensed psychologist in Boca Raton, Florida.
- Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, is a psychologist in New York City.
- Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics: “Fixed-Effects Analyses of Time-Varying Associations between Hobbies and Depression in a Longitudinal Cohort Study: Support for Social Prescribing?”
- American Psychological Association: “Too much free time may be almost as bad as too little”
- Utah State University: “How Hobbies Improve Mental Health”
- National Institutes of Health: “Do Social Ties Affect Our Health?”
- International Psychogeriatrics: “Reading activity prevents long-term decline in cognitive function in older people: evidence from a 14-year longitudinal study”
- NEJM Evidence: “Computerized Games Versus Crosswords Training in Mild Cognitive Impairment”