The lost art of the hobby

07.2019 | Debby Edelstein

I feel guilty when I see the word hobby. I know that having hobbies is the kind of thing a well-rounded individual should cultivate. Hobbies look good on a CV. They make meeting people easier. (After all, the most interesting people can talk about a wide range of subjects.) There’s even research to show that hobbies keep us healthier and help us live longer.

So, with all this evidence, why do I struggle to find any hobbies? Perhaps it’s because I suspect that I’ve become the kind of workaholic I had no intention of becoming. First identify meaningful work that I’m passionate about. Then work as hard as possible to stay ahead of the research and to afford nice things and nice holidays. Finally crumple in a heap at the end of any given day with just enough leftover energy to answer whatsapps, search for the latest series to watch and edit my to-do lists.

Dan Scotti, lifestyle writer at the website Elite Daily wrote a piece called "Why Don't Millennials Have Hobbies Anymore?"

"None of my friends have hobbies," Scotti writes and even though he’s describing millennials, his description includes Generation Xers like me too.

"With a pair of iPhone speakers and a Netflix subscription, I rarely feel as though I'm missing out on anything. ... It’s as if modern technology has fooled me into thinking my life is very fulfilling. I mean, I have social media accounts to uphold, television series to chain watch and a whole bunch of dating profiles to swipe through — so, what time do I even have for hobbies?”

It’s no coincidence that as we try to find the energy to be more productive, hack short-cuts to get more done and identify side hustles, the pursuit of finding creative ways to spend the non-existent free time we have left doesn’t even feature.

Our children are so focused on getting good marks, getting into good degrees and landing good jobs that any free time is filled with extra lessons and extra murals. We’ve succeeded into turning them into workaholics too. How will they ever discover what Joseph Campbell referred to as finding your bliss?

The potential for guilt is substantial. But here’s the rub. If hobbies (or the lack of them) become an unfulfilled to-do list item, we’re defeating the very reason why they’re supposed to be good for us. They’re supposed to be a relaxing enjoyable past-time that we do voluntarily in our free time. They are what we make time for when work is done whether or not we give them a label. And considering we all relax and take time out (however hectic we claim our lives are) the chances are that we’re better at relaxing than we think we are.

Take video games for example. This is the pasttime that millions of young people around the globe turn to in order to escape from reality and to engage online with players from around the world. Sure they can be addictive and require restraint. But they also teach collaboration and the kinds of strategic thinking that we believe is the preserve of more respected pasttimes like chess.

It turns out that even video games fulfill the definition of what a hobby is: A hobby is something that you do for fun — not money — and you typically do it fairly regularly. It’s also not the kind of thing you can choose for someone else.

As Scotti says:

"The fact that hobbies may be a thing of the past is an eerie thought. I can't honestly say that I see hobbies such as 'carpentry' making a comeback at any time in the near future. ... As sad as it may seem to older generations, we genuinely have an interest in Instagram, Twitter and other products of the digital age."

There’s just something about the word hobby that makes me think of stamp collecting, Victorian butterfly collectors and other quaint pasttimes I have zero interest in developing.

In the 13th century the word hobby referred to a small horse or a pony. It later came to describe a toy horse — a hobbyhorse. It’s from the hobbyhorse that the word’s modern sense of “favourite pastime” evolved.

My favourite pastime is something which I find much easier to tick off a list. Time with my family and friends, reading, entertaining, travelling, movies, theatre.

What’s important to remember is that there is no right hobby. A hobby is not something that you choose to do to impress anyone else. It’s something you do regularly simply because it’s pleasant. You allow yourself to do it not because it has any hope of making money but purely because you can.

I checked with my Facebook friends. “Does anyone have hobbies anymore?” The response was astounding. Reading, cooking, knitting, travelling and gardening are the most popular. Also, dog training, remote control sail boats, DIY, mountain biking, photography and running. One friend included making homemade bolognaise which I would describe as making supper. Another included talking, networking and shopping.

Perhaps the way we choose to relax has changed along with how we work? There’s a tendency for previous generations to romanticise the good old days and of course there are aspects of a lifestyle pre the internet and television which we should still aspire to. We should always make time for friends, supporting our community, exercise and creativity. But if we choose to do so via messenger, crowdfunding, fitpal and blogging, that’s acceptable too.

Removing the guilt is liberating and far more likely to result in creative thinking. And that’s what the word recreation (another word with stuffy connotations) really means when we break it down. The re-creation of ourselves. In whatever way we choose to put ourselves back together. Even if this means tidying cupboards, rearranging our Tupperware collections or browsing through recipes we have no intention of ever making.

I learn Spanish on the treadmill and in my car, enjoy our dogs and garden, try to impress my family with culinary surprises, meet fascinating people on an almost daily basis and play the piano. I thought hobbies needed to happen in studios or garages but it turns out that they can still survive in the in between passages. The lost hobby has been found. It was hiding in the quality time of my day.