What skill did you learn today?

How to be happy and ward off depression.

From the age of one week we are learning life skills. Why do we ever stop?

There is good evidence that learning skills is good for psychological health at every age. Adolescents who have learned a sporting skill or a musical skill are much more likely to enjoy their teenage years. Middle-aged men or women who are still learning and elderly people who take up new skills are healthier both psychologically and physically.

Skills can be very general such as:

Using a computer, swimming, meditating

Or they can be particular to a person, for example

Understanding & dealing with irritable bowel syndrome, copy writing, playing the saxophone

Whatever the skill we should all ensure that we are learning every day until the day we die.

Jimmy Gould became depressed as his 50th birthday approached and his counselor suggested that he learn three skills – with another person if possible. First he persuaded a friend that they would improve their English language skills. The plan was to read slowly through a good book and write down phrases that caught their attention. At their weekly meeting they would practice using the phrases until they became very familiar. They chose a book from Jimmy’s bookcase called the Matter of Wales by Jan Morris.

Within minutes they wrote down and rehearsed the following phrases: repositories of old folk wisdom, his voice was curiously beguiling, a wonderfully percipient man, it was comically apt, he felt something ominous in the air, spindrifts of spray flying helter-skelter over the heather, the ferocious tide. By changing books every few weeks they practiced a large number of diverse phrases and words that slowly became part of their everyday language.

As a second learning mission Jimmy walked through his local woods three times each week and with the help of the internet he got to know the name of every tree on his route.

The third skill was learning the flute thanks to a 26 year old woman who lived locally.

After 6 months Jimmy’s depression scores had plummeted and were down to within the normal range.

Here are 5 steps that will facilitate learning throughout your life.

  1. Don’t set your sights too high.
  2. Start learning a new skill or improve an old skill every three months.
  3. Search the Internet for sites that list life skills and then develop a plan. If appropriate purchase an ebook to help you on your way.
  4. Get a clear picture of the enjoyment and possibly the social status that you will experience when the skill has been learned or just partially learned.
  5. Above all remember that the main reason to learn a skill is to be interested and interesting. Also to exercise your brain so that it is working well until you die.

Finally when appropriate we can get advice from others: “He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask is a fool forever”


One difference between children and adults is the desire to learn. Children want to swim, learn a language walk, talk and play. When we say he acts as if he’s middle-aged we have assumed that he stopped learning and lost his interest in learning.