Some time, in the last 20 years, we became busy. It was around the time mobile phones started to fill the gaps in between everything else. Prior to this, we were simply connected to those around us physically and time seemed to move at a different pace.
When you were in the office, or at home, you were only available via landline phone – if you had one – or if someone actually visited you. In the car, you had the radio or your thoughts. In a queue, you had something to read, if you remembered to bring something, your thoughts and/or random conversations with strangers in the line.
There was even a time when we listed our hobbies on our CVs to show that there was more to us than the work we had done. And many of us actually had hobbies – defined as ‘an activity or interest pursued outside of one’s regular occupation and engaged in primarily for pleasure – even if it was just reading, listening to music or going to the movies.
Now, in the era of the slashie, we feel the need to monetise everything. We have lost sight of what Tim Wu wrote in his New York Times opinion piece, ‘In Praise of Mediocrity, “Lost here is the gentle pursuit of a modest competence, the doing of something just because you enjoy it, not because you are good at it. Hobbies, let me remind you, are supposed to be something different from work.”
This is emphasised by Austin Kleon in his book Steal Like An Artist, “A hobby is something creative that’s just for you. You don’t try to make money or get famous off it, you just do it because it makes you happy. A hobby is something that gives but doesn’t take.”
The benefits of hobbies
We are living in historical times. CO-19 has forced many of us to truly look at what life means in all its dimensions, not just in terms of our work. As Eckhart Tolle said in Power of Now, “Realise deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.”
A hobby has a number of benefits that will enhance your enthusiasm for life, including:
- Mindfulness is defined, by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “the practice of maintaining a non-judgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” A hobby requires a level of attention that brings into the Now and is a form of mindfulness. It enables you to experience the moment, taking your mind off everything else.
- Taking time for yourself – We live busy lives going from task to task, rarely getting the time to take a break. Hobbies help you take a break from the day-to day travails of life without being totally mindless. They help you embrace leisure and relation actively.
- Finding joy – There is a joy and excitement in doing something that you enjoy. Hungarian endocrinologist Hans Selye came up with eustress to explain positive stress, which has emotional and physical health benefits. Hobbies help you generate eustress.
- Redefine the routine – Our routines can become monotonous. A hobby can help you redefine and rework your routine with something that can also expand your perspectives and how you do things, positively.
- Connect with like-minded people – We tend to live within pockets, interacting with the same people and the same spaces. A hobby will expose you to a world, and people, outside of your general circle. And the power of our digital world is that you can connect with like-minded people beyond the physical.
- Release stress – A hobby puts life into perspective and helps you release stress by taking your mind off work-related actives and worry, even if temporarily.
Living as a beginner
I wrote the above in April 2020 for a client’s online publication. Since then, I have read Tom Vanderbilt’s book Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning which reinforces what I was exploring, in a more comprehensive and convincing manner.
The Alvin Toffler quote, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn” has become, to a certain extent, a cliched rallying cry of our times. This shouldn’t take away from the power of the underlying principle and, in a way, Vanderbilt’s book is a ‘how-to’ guide in learning and relearning.
He writes, “Here’s one advantage of being a perpetual beginner: Rather than grinding out a marathon, you are putting your brain through a variety of high-intensity interval workouts. Each time you begin to learn that new skill, you’re reshaping. You’re training your brain again to be more efficient.”
He also writes, “In Zen Buddhism, this state is referred to as beginner’s mind. Your mind is ready for anything, open to everything. ‘In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities,’ writes Shunryu Suzuki. ‘In the expert’s mind there are few.’
There are no prerequisites in terms of the hobbies you can explore; it just needs to be something that enables you to take a step away from your usual day-to-day. You do not even have to be good at it. It could be something that you enjoyed as a child that fell away because of adulting. Or you could randomly search for something online. The Internet is such that you can find just about anything. Or there could be something you have always wanted to do but never felt you had the time for.
I have a page in my notebook where I have a growing list of things that I would like to try. I currently have:
- Swimming (Yes, I don’t know how to swim)
- Cooking (which would please the missus to no end)
- Bass Guitar + Learn Music
Towards the end of 2021, I found a bonsai course and now have my first tree that I am growing, with the intention of adding one more in the next few months and taking it from there.
Don’t worry about whether this is something you are going to follow through on for years or if you’ll try it and decide it isn’t for you. That’s part of the joy. Trying new things. Keeping yourself engaged.