The Happiness Boost from Lifelong Learning

Por Jessica Migala |

Gaining and retaining knowledge doesn't just benefit your brain health. It can also connect you with others and bring you a fresh sense of joy and purpose.

group of older friends taking an art class for a story on the happiness boost from lifelong learning

As Albert Einstein once said, "I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious." He was a lifelong learner, and you can and should be, too - even if you're not a legendary genius. Learning new things is a wise investment of your time, and the benefits can be profound.

Beyond boosting your cognitive abilities — and wowing people on trivia night — learning new things also improves your psychological well-being. According to a review in the journal Ageing & Society, older adults who prioritize learning throughout their lives are more likely to maintain their independence and feel fulfilled. In turn, they experience more positive emotions throughout the day, develop better coping skills and have a more optimistic view of their life.

You don’t need to enroll in college to get the happiness benefits either. Learning new things at your local community center, senior center, library or online are great options too. Find out more about why lifelong learning is such a mood boost for older adults.

Stay active, have fun, get fit — with SilverSneakers! Classes and events are happening right now at participating gyms, online through SilverSneakers LIVE, and at community centers near you. Activate your free online account to get started.

How Learning Makes You Happier

The authors of the Aging & Society study point to earlier research that found that pursuing learning as an older adult was important for developing five happiness-boosting things:

  • Self-esteem and self-efficacy
  • Identity
  • Purpose and hope
  • Competences and communication
  • Social integration

These are all essential for healthy aging, but the socialization part of learning may be the one that has the most impact. You may attend a gardening class to learn about what flowers thrive in your area or take a photography lesson to capture the magic that is your grandchildren, but you're also interacting with new peers. You can also benefit greatly by taking classes with people you already know.

“There are a lot of opportunities for older friends and couples to get together and learn together,” says George W. Rebok, Ph.D. He is a professor emeritus at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. “Two heads are better than one. They [can] fill in the gaps for each other and enjoy the social component, too.”

Recommended reading: What Are the Keys to Healthy Aging?

Learning Has a Social-Interaction Trickle Effect

Building a community can become difficult as you age, and learning things in a group setting can help you do that. According to the National Institute on Aging, one-quarter of older adults are socially isolated, meaning they don’t have many people to interact with. That can put you at risk for anxiety, depression, and cognitive decline.

Learning in a social setting can make whatever task is at hand less scary, reduce frustration, provide a natural support system and can introduce you to people whom you’d never meet otherwise, says Rachel Wu, Ph.D. She is an associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, who studies adult learning.

Published research she co-authored in 2023 looked at what happens when older adults learn new things like painting, drawing, photography or music alongside their peers. Many participants in the study bonded with their classmates too.

“Some of the participants in our studies made lifelong friends that they never would have if it wasn’t for our study,” says Dr. Wu. In fact, many of the older adults involved in the research continued to meet once a month.

A study in Psychology and Aging found that people who stay in touch with friends tend to have a slower memory decline compared to more isolated folks. Other research shows that more frequent friendly interactions have been connected to enhanced cognitive functioning.

Recommended reading: How Friendships Change—and What You Can Do to Strengthen Them

Learning Solo Has Mood Perks Too

If you can't attend classes in person, don't let that stop you from gaining knowledge for free online. Technology can feel overwhelming at times, but the internet is a 24/7 library right at your fingertips. And using it connects you to others in different ways.

“If you stop learning how to use technology, you won’t be able to fully engage in society, and a lot of things you like to do will be closed off to you,” says Rebok.

Suscríbase a nuestro boletín informativo
Es rápido y fácil: Usted podría estar entre las 13 millones de personas elegibles.
¿Ya es miembro? Haga clic para descubrir nuestros más de 15,000 centros participantes.


Your computer can help you learn a new language, study history, identify birds, figure out how to fix a running toilet — or pretty much anything else you ever wanted to know.

Not sure where to start? YouTube has videos on how to do just about anything. And The Open University offers hundreds of free online classes in nine subject categories that range from one hour to 100 hours of study.

Recommended reading: SilverSneakers Community Classes: 6 Reasons to Get Involved

See our sources:
Learning and psychological well-being: Ageing & Society
Social connection and learning: The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Social connection and learning (2): Aging & Mental Health
Social isolation: National Institute on Aging
Social and cognition: PLOS ONE
Friends and cognition: Psychology and Aging

Activate Your FREE SilverSneakers Online Account

Get hundreds of free SilverSneakers On-Demand videos and stay in touch with us by creating your free online account. You don’t have to be a SilverSneakers member to get on-demand workout videos, health and fitness tips from SilverSneakers, and more.

SilverSneakers members can go to thousands of nationwide gyms and fitness locations, plus take SilverSneakers LIVE online classes led by specially trained instructors and designed for all fitness levels and abilities – at no additional cost. If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, it may include SilverSneakers. Check your eligibility here.

Already a member? Get your SilverSneakers member ID, search for locations near you, and all the health and wellness resources you need by logging in to your online member account here.