16 Nov How Lifelong Learning Makes Us Happy

Lifelong learning focuses on learning new things, regardless of our age or areas of interest. Why will this make us happier?

1. Learning is actually a core need for psychological well-being.
2. It can be a way of connecting with others too. Having an array of interesting topics at your disposal when speaking to colleagues or friends can boost your confidence.
3. Learning can help us build confidence and a sense of self-efficacy. It’s fulfilling to finally understand a difficult new subject.
4. As human beings, we have a natural desire to learn and progress. Psychologists call it “mastery”.
5. Learning also fuels our creativity. Ideas can come from making connections between seemingly unrelated things.
6. Learning a new language causes us to be so intense in our focus, which naturally results in a deep sense of satisfaction.
7. We get a boost from having increased our skills or achieved something.
8. Learning is a form of mindfulness; being totally focused on the present, so we get the benefits of that, too!

As we age, learning isn’t simply about earning degrees. The Economist recently argued that with all the disruptions in the modern economy, particularly technology, ongoing skill acquisition is critical to continuous professional relevance. Books, online courses, MOOCs, professional development programs, podcasts and other resources have never been more abundant or accessible, making it easier than ever to continue our lifelong learning.


So why don’t more of us seize that opportunity? It is certainly worth remembering a few points:

Educational investments are an economic imperative

The links between formal education and lifetime earnings are well-studied and substantial. Our rapidly shifting professional landscape — the disruptive power of automation, the increasing number of jobs requiring expertise in coding — necessitates that workers focus continually on mastering new technologies and skills. Navigating this ever-changing landscape requires continual learning and personal growth.

Our capacity for learning is a cornerstone of human flourishing and motivation

There are many reasons to continue learning and the weight of the evidence would indicate that lifelong learning isn’t only an economic imperative but a social, emotional, and physical one as well. We are uniquely endowed with the capacity for creativity and intellectual advancement. We live in an age of abundant opportunity for learning and development. Capturing that opportunity — maintaining our curiosity and intellectual humility — can be one of life’s most rewarding pursuits.

Learning is positive for health

You will be aware by now that reading, even for short periods of time, can dramatically reduce your stress levels. A recent report in Neurology** noted that while cognitive activity can’t change the biology of Alzheimer’s, learning activities can help delay symptoms, preserving people’s quality of life. Research indicates that learning to play a musical instrument can offset cognitive decline, and learning challenging new skills at an older age is associated with improved memory.

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 neighbor; do they have knowledge you’d like to learn and vice versa?

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. It’s never been easier for us to learn something new and increase our happiness in the meantime.

*Learning through life: Mental capital and wellbeing: Making the most of ourselves in th 21st century, UK Government office for Science
**Neurology July 7, 2015 vol. 85 no. 1 48-55
Psychologies Magazine | Harvard Business Review | The Economist

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About the Author: Yolande A. finds joy in meeting new people, knowing that she can learn a new thing or two from everyone. Her hobbies include teaching, reading and spreading good vibes.

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