Find a new interest (or two) to keep your brain healthy and happy.
Learning shouldn’t stop when you graduate from high school or get a college diploma. While it’s true that our brains go through a period of rapid growth and development during our late teens and early 20s, we continue to mature, understand the world and, hopefully, learn new skills throughout our entire lives.
The more nourishment we give our brains in the form of experiences and information—whether that means taking a class in French cooking, learning origami or becoming addicted to a smart political podcast—the more it keeps us nimble and youthful. When we engage in lifelong learning, not only do we gain insight about the wider world, we also get a better understanding of ourselves. Plus, we reap other benefits, such as a sense of vitality, meaning and fulfillment.
Lifelong learning doesn’t just mean going back to school to get a Ph.D. (though some people may choose to do that). Don’t know where to start? Here are four options to consider. Just follow your interests and see where they take you.
1. Listen and learn.
We are living through a golden age of audio with multiple options for every listener.
Podcasts have opened up a new world of listening and learning, and the best part is that they’re available anytime, anywhere. If you are new to the podcast world, it can be overwhelming; there are just so many to choose from, including comedy shows and plenty of true crime. But lots of podcasts are truly educational. You’ll find options for grammar geeks, history hounds and classic film buffs. Start with names and media outlets you may already know, such as the TED Radio Hour, The New York Times, Malcolm Gladwell or our own Live Happy Podcast. The only limit is your free time.
- Before podcasts there were audio books, which are still going strong thanks to Audible and other streaming programs. Local libraries also offer a selection to borrow for free. Sometimes it is just easier to listen to a book than to read one—especially if you have a long commute, or spend a lot of time cooking and folding laundry.
Read more: 8 Ways to Find Your Own Tribe
2. Watch and learn.
Some of us are visual learners, and watching a human being talk helps us assimilate information better than if we just listened to a disembodied voice. We watch their expressions and body language; we take a journey along with this person.
- There are now thousands of TED Talks on innumerable subjects, from how to recycle Styrofoam to how computers will grow our food in the future.
- Instead of looking to user’s manuals for instructions, we now look to YouTube videos for everything from tips for riding your new road bike to DIY green cleaning.
- Education can be as close as your phone. Download an app such as Duolingo to begin learning a new language.
- A longtime proponent of lifelong learning, The Learning Company offers The Great Courses, a series of long-term classes on subjects that range from the Ottoman Empire to Optimizing Brain Fitness, taught by Ph.D.s who are leaders in their fields. For most of the courses, you have a choice of media: DVD, CD, audio, or video download, priced accordingly.
Here is a TED Talk from Live Happy contributor Amy Blankson about how to maintain your happiness in the digital era.
3. Find an online course.
Digital learning is now easier than ever thanks to MOOCs: Massive Open Online Courses. These are varied in scope, convenient and usually inexpensive. You can take a one-time class online, sign up for a professional certificate, or even earn a degree. For example, if you are looking for an online course in positive psychology, we’ve got you covered.
Start here for an online education:
Founded by Harvard and MIT in 2012, EDx is a non-profit clearinghouse of high-quality online courses offered for free (with additional certificates at a cost). It is a pretty amazing resource.
Coursera is another large MOOC clearinghouse offering courses from Duke, Stanford, UPenn and other prestigious universities. You register to pay monthly and can take any course.
- Recently bought by LinkedIn, which was gobbled up by Microsoft, Lynda.com offers tons of useful professional video courses—mainly in computer, web, business and related fields. Learn to edit video, use WordPress or code in HTML. Lynda is a great resource for those who want to polish their digital skills, or even your grandmother who would like to use Word shortcuts. Sign up for a yearly fee and take as many classes as you like.
4. Attend a class in the ‘real world.’
Online courses have made staying home a tempting option for adult education, but in truth, nothing beats being there in person, in the presence of the teacher and other students where, at its best, you’ll find an atmosphere of intellectual dialogue.
- Many universities, colleges and community colleges offer some form of continuing education. The Bernard Osher Foundation has made an incredible commitment to lifelong learning, helping to fund specialized institutes at more than 100 universities. (Check this list to see if there is one near you.) Courses are most often taught by Ph.D.s and other specialists in their fields.
Churches, Jewish Community Centers and community recreation centers sometimes offer classes such as bible study, religious history, and computer literacy for seniors at low or no cost.
- Taking a class is not the only way to continue learning. Developing a hobby or pursuing a passionate interest such as yoga or dance can produce the same life-enhancing effects. Seek out a local crafts guild to take a pottery or painting class, or a 4H or university extension that teaches gardening or animal husbandry.
- Another way to learn and grow in the real world: volunteering. If you are passionate about books, volunteer at the library, or read to someone who is vision-impaired. You love to cook? Volunteer at your local Meals on Wheels. You’ll learn as much about the other volunteers—from all walks of life—as you will about food.
To understand why lifelong learning is so important for our well-being, check out the feature article in the October 2017 issue of Live Happy magazine.
Emily Wise Miller is the Web Editor for Live Happy.