So, what do you do in your spare time? If you find that question difficult to answer, you are not alone. The prevailing attitude in society seems to be that hobbies aren’t worthy of a second thought, never mind the discipline required to dedicate precious time to one. But, ironically, giving ourselves permission for some quality leisure time may also provide a major antidote to stress.
The idea of hobbies seems a bit twee and counter-productive in trying to balance work, family commitments, and university studies. It certainly is a recent phenomenon in human civilization that people have the opportunity to pursue pastimes for no reason other than that they enjoy them. But the irony is that, even though our society now has the necessary means to pursue hobbies, it seems that less people than ever have at least one activity they enjoy just for the sake of doing it. The idea having free time creates a sense of guilt rather than excitement. We feel that we should be trying to cram even more tasks into our already full schedules in order to be productive and successful, not dabbling in activities that don’t serve an immediate, useful purpose.
But there is a growing body of research by both psychologists and life coaches that suggests there is proof that taking some time off to do something enjoyable measurably boosts productivity and creativity instead of detracting from it. The first recognition of the value of hobbies began in 1975 when Dr. Herbert Benson published “The Relaxation Response”, the first book that documented how hobbies were essential for mental health and physical wellbeing. In the forty years since the book was published, there are now many scientific studies that back up Benson’s initial research. Switching from must-do tasks to want-to-do tasks has a measurable effect on improved sleep, heart and digestive health, concentration and focus, and resiliency to stress. If GP’s were to write out a prescription for hobbies, then perhaps people would take the value of them more seriously. The fact is that many people remain unconvinced that they have any positive value.
And there lies the problem. Leisure time seems like such a simplistic fix for the epidemic of modern stress, that the more correct solution would be to cure it with a prescription drug or vitamin supplement. So why are we so hesitant to take part in something that provides so many benefits and is also fun?
The biggest resistance to doing what we like rather what we must is that that we have become too used to being busy. Dropping some activities in our day planner to do something more pleasurable can be extremely difficult. We think that if we take time for ourselves either our career or family schedules or household chores?or all of the above?will suffer, or that we are acting selfish. But one solution might be to use our calendar as a tool to our advantage, to block off a chunk of time, even if It’s just a half-hour, to pursue a pastime we enjoy. Booking this appointment serves as a powerful cue that this is time to be set aside specifically to have some personal time off from our normal routine. It may take a lot of willpower to not cancel this booked time and replace it with something else, but think of it as a prescription for wellness, that it should be given the same priority as booking a medical appointment.
Once you make this commitment, however, it is important to resist the urge to use it for something non-productive such as flopping on the couch and watching television. The idea behind a hobby is to engage in something active. One idea that writing coach Julia Cameron urges everyone to do, whether or not they consider themselves an artist, is to take themselves out on what she calls an Artist Date, a periodic outing to explore something that interests them. As Cameron says, “the Artist Date need not be overtly ?artistic? ? think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They encourage play. When choosing an Artist Date, it is good to ask yourself, ?what sounds fun?? ? and then allow yourself to try it.” Ideas for Artists? Dates can be as simple as doodling on a page or visiting a museum. This might be the gateway to opening up more options for pursuing a hobby in a deeper level.
And don’t think that hobbies require a lot of money. This might be true of an activity like downhill skiing, but there are many options that involve little or no cost. The most important criteria of a hobby is that it is personal?if it is something that works for you, then it doesn’t matter if anyone else understands or appreciates it. It should be an activity that brings you joy, refreshes you, and makes you look forward to the next session without the thought of an end goal in mind. In psychology, this is called “flow” or “the zone”, where the person performing a pleasurable activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and complete absorption where time seems to stand still.
Finding a hobby that fits may not be easy, especially if you haven’t been used to having free time. The important thing to remember is to try a variety of new experiences, give yourself time to form an opinion about them, and most importantly, give yourself permission to laugh.
In the next few weeks, I will be highlighting some ideas for hobbies you can try that are a bit out of the ordinary yet still accessible. Hopefully, this will help us busy university students find a bit more balance in our lives.
Carla is an AU student and a caffeinated beverage definitely keeps her going through her studies. However, her pet peeve is seeing people occupy the tables at Starbucks for long periods of time when she can’t find a seat.