I recently developed a new hobby. It was obviously something that I didn’t plan for, and how could I have? It's not like you suddenly wake up one morning and decide you want to pick up knitting. Well, I suppose maybe you could, but then again maybe it's just pushing your limits, in the sense that, if it's planned, then it's not really something that came from within. I am saying this under the influence of the Rubik's Cube, which was a fairly common toy as I was growing up. I never paid any special attention to it, most likely because it was so common, and everyone had one.
But recently, as I was taking the train from a small mountain town to return home, a deaf-mute salesman left some inexpensive trinkets in the compartment, among which was a Cube. I bought it mostly for the sake of it, and for the low price too. But, for three weeks or so now, I am still unable to leave it. I don't know if sufficient time has passed since I got it to qualify it as a hobby, but I have that feeling that I want to learn all there is to know about it – how to solve it, how to look at it, how to predict the position of the various cublets on its surface and so on.
Lately, it's become fairly easy to develop hobbies that were only reserved for the privileged not decades ago. The Internet is making it possible not only to find various things to buy, but also to connect with people that share the same interests, even if they are thousands of miles away. I've always been curious as to how people catch on to hobbies, or if the hobbies are the ones “in control.” Could people, for example, learn to like something, and then take pleasure in doing it, simply through the power of exercise? I know, for instance, that this is the case with computer gamers. Everyone plays, or played, games at one point in their lives, but to some it's become a reason to get up in the morning.
I too go to great lengths to follow my hobbies. Granted, for many years, there were only two, and now a third one is developing. Obviously, I'm not taking about some fleeting interests, which come and go, but about things that I've enjoyed doing for many years. Music and aggressive skating have always been with me, since as far back as I can remember, and they have always required sacrifices, of both physical and mental nature. Smacking into concrete is never pleasant, unless of course someone develops a hobby out of doing this.
But I think that the most interesting aspect of it all is to see how people regard themselves in relation to their hobbies. That is to say, they oftentimes go to great lengths to remain able to do the things they enjoy doing. While this may sound as a truism at first, it's actually not. At times, there are considerable incentives for people to stop doing the things they like. When I fractured my spinal cord while skating, or broken a bone in my shoulder, I was well within my rights to burn my skates and pick up car washing as my new passion. While I cannot be objective in establishing the reasons why I continued to skate after that, I believe that you could have more revealing insights into these issues.
The added bonuses
There are also numerous benefits associated with having a hobby. One of the most pervasive and widespread is a better mental health. After a hard day's work, relaxing while doing the things you love boosts your mind's health without you ever realizing it. This happens because engaging in your hobby leads to the release of various hormones in the brain, which are associated with reward, satisfaction, happiness and so on. Dopamine and oxytocin are just two examples, and they are both addictive substances. If they are release while you are performing an activity, then you will most likely try to do it again, without being necessarily able to logically explain why. You will only say “Because I like it.”
Also related to this is the fact that there is a great degree of control in following a hobby. I have always appreciated the fact that an air of freedom and letting loose surrounds these activities, but there are actually numerous factors at work that generate this impression. One of them is the fact that you feel free simply because you choose to do that particular thing. It's not like other people can come over and direct you to the nearest hobby. You also get to practice it at a time of your choosing. Have you ever noticed how you tend to get cranky when you want to do work on your hobbies and you don't have enough time to do so?
This is partially due to the release of the hormones I talked about earlier. The effect is smaller, but comparable, to a junkie craving for his/her fix. When the drug is within reach, but external factors prevent you from getting it, you naturally become anxious and nervous. I have recently developed what can be construed as hatred (to some degree) for time and clocks. As most of you, I have a busy schedule and a lot of things to do. I am always on the run and running errands, and never seem to find enough time to do the things I like. I often look at the clock and feel like breaking it, because even the short breaks I planned for throughout the day have been moved, or cleared altogether.
But the fact of the matter is that none of these drawbacks associated with hobbies rival the happiness you feel when hiking, knitting, playing your favorite game, or organizing bug fights. I, for one, feel like I'm in a world of my own, and tend to ignore other stuff going on right next to me. For example, when I play music, I tend to only keep an eye on my band members, and even then if it's absolutely necessary. When I skate downhill with my headphones on, I only look at people so I can avoid them. When solving the Rubik's Cube, I can successfully ignore other people trying to tell me stuff at the same time.
This degree of freedom, and also absorption into your hobby, is only possible when doing things you actually like, and have liked for a long time. If you're lucky enough, you may even get to have a career in the hobby you're interested in. By definition, these activities are something you do outside your career, but combining the two would make for a very potent mix. Given that the paycheck is decent, you would most likely gladly take on a job in which to practice your hobby. Sure, there would be days in which you could get fed up, but overall things would be, as they say, peachy.
Generally, I look at hobbies as being things you do for pure pleasure, and not necessarily for financial gains. Let's be realistic here, for most people their hobbies and their 9-to-5 jobs will remain two painfully distinct entities. But I think that the main reason why these activities are so helpful for the body and the mind is precisely the fact that you don't expect any sort of gain from them, other than your own personal satisfaction. Maybe this should be the norm in our society, rather than the continuous effort to produce more money, buying more useless things, and only then spending your hard-earned free time doing what you like.
If it pleases you, hobbies can also be looked at as training for future, full-time jobs. Studies show that having a hobby boosts creativity, providing an outlet for your imagination to run free. This is a very sought-after quality in prospective employees, given that you are not seeking employment in a cubicle-based job, where all your moves are automated and routine. So, to recap, you relieve stress, boost your imagination, meet new friends, or connect to old ones in different manners, experience a sense of accomplishment, enjoy yourself, and all that by cultivating the hobbies of your choosing.
I think it's safe to argue that this is a winning combination. But the many reasons why you should follow your favorite activities are fairly clear-cut to everyone. What I would be interested in learning is stories involving hobbies, as in things you had to give up, if any, or sacrifices you had to make in order to keep doing what you like. Stories of accomplishments, and also accounts of how your hobbies may have helped you develop personally, and go ahead “in life” would also be appreciated. I told you my story, and shared with you the newly-found fondness I have of the Rubik's Cube. Now it's your turn.