But now scientists have also identified that hobbies, which see a surge in popularity at this time of year, can help boost our mood. Their studies reveal that some of the most traditional pastimes are the best for giving us a much needed winter feel good factor. One, carried out in Norway, found that people who like artistic hobbies or playing musical instruments are less prone to depression.
According to researchers at Randolph-Macon College in Virginia, US, pursuits like humble model making can produce levels of satisfaction that enable us to avert mental health problems.
And as someone who frequently suffers from a January slump, I’m finally realising the power of tried and tested hobbies to improve my own mental health.
This year, rather than giving things up for the new year, I’ve vowed to start taking up something new instead.
Hence my new found love of model railways. Since buying my two sons a Hornby 00 gauge starter set for Christmas I’ve gone loco for the hobby.
Admittedly the present was secretly partly for me but thankfully they love it and we’ve already spent hours together on our new-found passion, one that’s shared by thousands across the land.
As soon as school and work are over we’ve been eagerly heading down to our basement to lay out track and tinker with engines.
Take up a traditional hobby at this gloomy time of year – and beat the blues forever
We’ve even drawn up timetables for our services – which are frankly much more efficient than any real rail company’s.
My father always loved model railways and I remember that my childhood home was cluttered with modelling magazines, bits of half built backdrops and disembowelled rolling stock.
I occasionally helped him out, but other distractions meant that until recently I had never got the bug in the same way.
Now I’m delighted to have discovered that both my children and I have been transported into the fun fantasy world that no doubt kept him buoyant through life’s trials and tribulations.
Not only is modelling a helpful distraction from the rain lashing down outside, but a great way to forge a shared interest – and tempt the kids away from that blasted games console to boot.
Like many other classic hobbies it combines the need for patience and problem solving with a chance to escape into an environment over which you have control. No wonder a study from Harvard University in the US found modelling could keep stress levels at bay. It appears to be enthusing a new generation too.
Hornby launched its first clockwork tin-plate train in 1920, but sets are still sparking imaginations a century later with sales up.
Now my boys and I dream that one day we might be able to build a set to match that of model railway celebrity devotee Sir Rod Stewart.
He recently unveiled an awe inspiring 124ft-long and 23ft-wide layout of a US-style city which took 26 years to build. Other famous model railway aficionados include Jools Holland, Roger Daltrey and Pete Waterman. Many celebrities have fascinating hobby hinterlands that keep them sane from the world of showbusiness.
Like 2.5million other fans, tennis champion Maria Sharapova and The Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood collect stamps for example, as did John Lennon.
Studies suggest puzzle and board game players have lower rates of depression and Scrabble-loving Kylie Minogue is one of the many stars who adore them. Baking is also booming and wool sales are soaring as people, including Hollywood stars Julia Roberts and Ryan Gosling, re-discover the attraction of knitting to encourage mindfulness.
In a report published in The British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 81 per cent of respondents with depression reported feeling happy after knitting.
Winston Churchill turned to painting to ward off the “black dog” of depression that haunted him
Hobbies, it turns out, are as old as the existence of humans. Think of those ancient cave paintings.
Indeed new archaeological research from the University of Colorado Boulder reveals that Neanderthals even enjoyed collecting seashells.
But it was in late Victorian times that many of the popular pastimes we know today took off as the middle classes began to have more leisure time.
Famous hobbyists of the era included writers Mark Twain, who loved keeping scrapbooks and HG Wells who was something of a war game nerd.
By the 1940s acclaimed author George Orwell could argue that an “addiction to hobbies” was actually part of what defined our national character.
He said: “We are a nation of flower-lovers, but also a nation of stamp-collectors, pigeon-fanciers, amateur carpenters, coupon-snippers, darts-players, crossword-puzzle fans.”
Wartime leader Winston Churchill turned to painting to ward off the “black dog” of depression that haunted him.
Tennis ace Maria Sharapova collects stamps
He once wrote: “To be really happy and really safe, one ought to have at least two or three hobbies.”
It’s a little known fact that another of our prime ministers, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, was keen on flower arranging, while ex-premier Tony Blair is a keen coin collector.
US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was a committed philatelist, even went as far as to proclaim: “I owe my life to my hobbies.”
Of course there’s always the danger that you can become too obsessed with your new found diversion. Our new model railway has certainly played havoc with getting my tax return done.
As George Eliot wrote in her novel Middlemarch: “Hobbies are apt to run away with us.”
But there’s no doubt they can provide a welcome antidote to leaden skies and our daily worries as well as creating a fulfilling, lifelong interest.
So maybe it’s time to stop moaning about the weather or obsessing about the diet you’ve already ditched and take a positive step to banishing Blue Monday…for good.