Read more from our #FREETIME primer here.
By definition, a hobby is “an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure.” And what better way to while away the hours than by doing something you love?
Sounds great in theory, but also like some remnant of another era when people weren’t logging 60-hour work weeks while trying to juggle family responsibilities, housework, and just enough gym workouts to keep our computer-bound bodies from dissolving into a gelatinous ball of goo.
Maybe hobbies are a relic of generations gone by—or an indulgence of the retiree crowd. But as it turns out, you (and I) should make it a point to spend regular time pursuing diversions we enjoy. People who have a hobby are generally healthier, say most experts. At the very least they make our lives a lot more fun.
“Hobbies can be thought of on three levels,” explained Michael Brickey, PhD. “The first is as a diversion [from worry and concerns]; the second is as a passion that truly engages [us] in doing something we love; and the third level is as something that creates a sense of purpose,” which we all need. Here are five ways having a hobby can improve every facet of your life.
Hobbies lower your risk for depression and metabolic disease.
Whether it’s knitting, fishing, playing tennis, or taking pictures, a pastime you look forward to, and which absorbs your attention, can encourage a healthy physical and emotional life. A 2009 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine found that those who made time regularly to pursue their hobbies had significantly lower blood pressure, lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, smaller waist circumference, lower body mass index, and lower rates of depression. The benefits are even better if your hobby involves an athletic pursuit; a South Korean study published in the International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being found that a favored pastime of a sport or fitness routine not only improved physical heath (duh), but the social component and emotional support of a group or team activity increased quality of life exponentially.
Hobbies reduce stress.
Hobbies provide a diversion from daily stressors and can keep you from getting burned out in your job, and elsewhere. This is because we have a limited amount of space in our heads, and when we fill it up with fun stuff, there’s no room left for troubling thoughts. Which allows you to shut out the world, and give your mind a break. Hobbies that encourage a “flow state” are similar to meditation: people who are able to calm down and zone out doing what they love exhibit a lowered heart rate and fewer stress responses in their daily life than their hobby-less counterparts. Giving yourself permission to do what you love seems to be key to our sanity.
Hobbies keep you mentally sharp, and improve creativity.
Research published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest found that those who pursued more hours of leisure activities scored higher on cognitive ability tests regardless of their sex, education, and social class. A 2015 study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that those who reported having a hobby also reported better moods and less boredom when they were engaging in their pastime of choice. When the mind is focused on something it enjoys—intrinsically motivated is the scientific term—it’s much more likely to think creatively. “There is a lot of research linking intrinsic motivation and thinking outside of the box,” Jennifer Racioppi, a health coach, told dailyworth.com. If you’re working on a problem, you’ll be more creative when you’re in that flow.
Hobbies can boost your job performance.
Most of us can’t ditch our day job for a life of leisure, but carving out time for a hobby can actually make you a more productive worker. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology found that people who had creative hobbies outside the office were better problem solvers in the workplace, and were also more likely to lend a helping hand to a struggling colleague (way to go, team player). Not only that, the more time study participants spent woodworking, traveling or whatever they loved to do, the better their job performance: they scored 15- to 30-percent higher in performance reviews than those who only occasionally pursued favorite pastimes.
Hobbies keep you socially engaged.
If there’s one thing that extroverts and introverts can agree on, it’s that the older you get the harder it is to make new, meaningful friendships. If you’re looking to expand your social circle a hobby is a great way to meet new people, with whom you have something in common.
You won’t need data to confirm this, but here it is anyway: a 2015 study in the American Journal of Health Behavior found that being sedentary and tethered to a computer screen can be isolating, and have a deleterious effect on our social satisfaction. But you don’t have to play a group sport to find other likeminded new friends. Even solitary hobbyists can meet new people. Love reading? Check out book clubs in your area on meetup.org. Are you a crocheting master? Many arts and crafts stores have craft circles open to the community. Thinking about a half-marathon? Join a running group to train. You get the idea.
Whether it means waking up a little early on a Saturday or skipping a night of Netflix, carving out time to pursue what you love (or exploring a new hobby) can make a huge difference to your quality of life. If you’re looking for inspiration, take a look at this list of popular hobbies. Who knew “bus spotting” was a thing?