Where Have All the Real Hobbies Gone?

What do you do in your spare time?

In preparing this blog post, I asked myself the same question. What are my hobbies? What do I do for fun when all the work is done, the family is fed, and the dog is walked? I could tell you I spend my evenings locked away in my elaborate art studio, creating beautiful masterpieces just for the heck of it. I could tell you I sit in my study and write motivational essays that I’ll later publish in prestigious literary magazines. Or I could tell you I crawl into bed at 8:30 every night and snuggle up with a cup of tea and a good book, reading the night away until I fall asleep with a drool-stained book on my face.

But I’d be lying. I don’t do any of those things. Heck, I don’t even like tea.

So, what are my hobbies? I suppose it depends on the definition of the word. Merriam-Webster defines it as a pursuit outside one’s regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation.

If that’s the case, then I have loads of hobbies. Binge-watching Downton Abbey and Dexter, for example, is pretty much the most relaxing thing I’ve done in the last three months. Scrolling through my Facebook feed before bed every night puts me in a sort of meditative state. And mindlessly double-clicking pictures on Instagram is something I definitely do outside my regular occupation.

But, wait. Why do I feel an incredible sense of guilt building up in my stomach? Why do I suddenly have the urge to toss my phone out the window and run it over with my car?

Those aren’t hobbies, Shelby (Ugh, third person…*cringe*). Those are sorry excuses for hobbies. Facebook, Netflix, Instagram, and Pinterest – they’re time wasters, things we do to distract ourselves from the things we actually need to do, like getting caught up on emails, or organizing that presentation we’re in charge of next week, or doing the dishes. They’re relaxing activities, sure. I suppose one could even argue they’re mildly educational. I did recently learn that Donald Trump has small hands, thanks to my Facebook feed. So there’s that.

What does that say about me, though? I know I’m not alone here. In fact, 31% of millennials and 42% of Baby Boomers rank “watching television” in their top three favorite leisure activities. (Nielsen Data)

Spare-time (1)

Long story short, it says I no longer value my spare time the way I used to. There was a time when my life was chock full of hobbies. I played softball, I drew pictures in my sketchpad, I made jewelry, I wrote in my diary, I painted and sang in a choir and played piano. In college, I played the trumpet, traveled, worked on my blog, exercised, read (for fun, even!) – I did things that put more value in my life, not less.

Today, I can count the number of hobbies I practice on one hand, and three fingers account for technology-related “hobbies.” The other two – running and occasionally practicing calligraphy. I haven’t picked up a paintbrush in months, there are cobwebs on my blog, and I have a stack of unread books on my nightstand. I pin inspirational travel destinations, crafts, paintings, and recipes on my Pinterest board, but don’t ask me how many of those pins I’ve brought to fruition. It’s depressing.

I watch tv because it’s easy (and cheap). I’ve grown lazy, idle, and uninterested. I’ve succumbed to the surplus amount of information and “entertainment” my television and iPhone screen have to offer, and I’m not okay with it.

I realize this blog post probably makes me sound like a Luddite, someone who wants to discredit the importance of technology and whatnot. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Digital devices and social networking are critical innovators in our society. I get that. But the fact that a large portion of us are allowing it to consume so much of our lives, so much that we no longer have time for fulfilling hobbies, is a frightening reality.

Hobbies – genuine hobbies – are what make us better individuals, better friends, better husbands and wives, better coworkers, better people. Hobbies are what make us interested in the world around us. They give us passion, something to wake up for in the morning. Studies have shown that employees who practice creative hobbies at home show better job performance at work, increasing career satisfaction and overall quality of life.

In a particular study, Dr. Kevin Eschleman studied the way creative hobbies influenced the lives of over 400 employees. Based on his results, he stated, “… organizations may benefit from encouraging employees to consider creative activities in their efforts to recover from work. Creative activities are likely to provide valuable experiences of mastery and control, but may also provide employees experiences of discovery that uniquely influence performance-related outcomes.” (Eschleman et al., 2014)

If that’s not enough motivation to put down our phones and explore our creative intuitions, I don’t know what is.

So, get out there, dip your toes in something wholesome. Try a new hobby or pick up a few old ones. Go fly fishing in a river, arrange a weekly knitting group with your girlfriends, brew beer in your basement, learn how to golf, go hiking in a national park, paint or draw or sing or create music or collect stamps or fill-in-the-blank. Or choose something from this list, or this one, or this one, or maybe this one.

There’s no shortage on hobbies; there’s a shortage on our willingness to do them.

I’m not saying you should cancel your Netflix subscription or cut down on your cell phone storage. Spending an evening on the couch with a glass of wine and your favorite TV show is a necessary form of relaxationThe next day, put down the remote, turn off your phone, and shut down the Xbox. Then, go spend some time with your creativity and be deeply interested in something. You might learn a thing or two about yourself.

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