When I was a teenager, I thought hobbies were lame. I, of course, had it all figured out. The pinnacle of cool was dressing up, going to parties or getting into bars and drinking with my friends. Everybody ‘cool’ was into it and aside from taking up all of my activity time, I also spent a lot of time and energy talking about it and preparing for it. Fast forward 15 or so years and binge drinking had definitely lost its appeal. When this happened, quite suddenly, a few years ago I had built almost all of my identity on being the loud party girl with a drink in her hand. When my physical and mental health forced me to take a hiatus from drinking all the time, I had to look at the world, and myself, in a different light. I had to find different ways to relax, unwind and enjoy myself. I don’t want to say that my whole life changed overnight but it definitely changed from that point. My life now is unrecognisable from the one I had before and I proudly, and for the first time, have hobbies. I’m a hobby advocate and I recently got to thinking about this – why do some people have hobbies and others not? Do we need to go through huge life changes before we can get hobbies? What happens if we don’t have any? And what does it all mean (if anything) in the bigger picture?
Of course, it’s not always that dire. Some people just don’t know what they want to do. Others have a clear path in their minds but it involves having to work for years in a number of less desirable jobs first. For many, a job is, and always will be, merely a source of income. Whatever the scenario, school seems like a wonderful but all too distant memory by the time we get to work and real life can feel dull and pointless. So how do we keep up our spirits up and stave off the existential ‘why am I here’ type questions?
This is where hobbies come in – if you aren’t so sure what your vocational calling is, or what you want to do with ‘the rest of your life’, doing something that makes you happy and surrounding yourself with like-minded people is a sure way to get form a path or, at the very least, help you to feel better about yourself and about your place in the world. Start by volunteering in your spare time, signing up to local open mic nights or whatever else it is that takes your fancy. The longer you do it (and better you get at it) the more you will experience those feelings of unbridled pleasure and achievement we lost after graduating from high school. It may just be that doing something with passion and enthusiasm in your spare time, for free, could help you later find a way to make money from that thing.
If you already have a hobby and can’t/ don’t want to do it for work, I would again stress that your hobby does not need to be related to your work, in fact I think that it’s a bonus if it’s not. It gives you a sense of purpose and enjoyment, a way to relax and unwind outside of your job. What if you’re one of those lucky buggers whose hobby also has the potential to be a lucrative and enjoyable career ( I’m looking at you artists, comedians, film-makers, dancers, and people who genuinely love their job) and don’t see the need for another hobby? I would say that in your case, the benefits of having a hobby outside of work becomes purely about passing your spare time in a productive manner and being a more well-rounded and interesting person. These are both massive bonuses as far as I’m concerned.
But there’s more to it than work, or what you do with your time. Over thousands of years we have devoted whole schools of thought (and even religions) to finding out the reason we’re on this Earth. I saw a talk a few years ago by philosopher A.C Grayling, the summary was ‘there probably is no God, so the net worth of the existence of mankind on Earth will boil down to how much good we do’. This and Bill Bryson’s fantastic introduction to A Short History of nearly Everything ( which you can read here) have stuck with me where this is concerned. My resulting view is that we’re on this planet because of a stroke of dumb luck and that what we do here is ultimately not that important. Rather than feeling sad and insignificant as a result, I believe that being the best person you can and enjoying each moment of your life is the best way of saying ‘thank you’ to the universe for the absolute miracle/ mistake of your own creation. Obviously if you can do something ‘good’, that’s ideal, but in my mind anything that you work hard at, improve yourself through and find enjoyment in serves a purpose.
Not convinced by the aforementioned benefits for your career and existential mental health? There are other reasons that having a hobby can be good for you. You may have heard of terms like being in ‘the zone’ or ‘flow’. This gets talked about a lot with athletes but can apply to almost anyone doing something they find both challenging and enjoyable. Flow was studied by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (watch his TED talk on the subject here) who noted that money alone cannot make us happy and that we need something else to bring us joy and meaning in our lives. His research shows that people who experience flow report feelings of elation, of feeling like they are having an out of body experience, where time stands still and activity comes automatically. He calls flow ‘the secret to happiness’. Csikszentmihalyi looked at large numbers of people from all walks of life and found an undeniable connection between happiness and success and those who regularly experienced flow in their life.
Apart from my all the above, the final reason that I would highly recommend finding a hobby is that they’re just plain cool. Teenage Elli was clearly very wrong. Far be it from me to tell you what kinds of hobbies to have – I know people who are into everything from online gaming to Viking Mythology to stamp collecting. And everything in between. The older I get the happier I become when I meet someone who has a really interesting or unique hobby or passion. The way they light up when they tell you about it is, I’m convinced, part of the charm of the human experience and well worth taking part in.