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Hobbies in the 21st Century
With the rise of industrialization in recent history, people have had more time to do activities that interest them. These activities later became known as hobbies. Hobbies grew in popularity since their inception and reached a height during the mid-twentieth century. In recent years, however, hobby engagement has noticeably declined. Nearly everyone has anecdotal evidence of this decline, from a personal experience of quitting a hobby to just generally seeing fewer and fewer people engaging in meaningful hobbies. Notably, the dwindling of hobby engagement is closely correlated with the development of new technologies like the internet, a claim which can most certainly be backed by anecdotal evidence; with people spending more of their free time playing video games; watching movies, TV, and videos; and scrolling through social media they are spending less time on more beneficial engaging hobbies.
Even though hobbies have seen a decline since the mid-1960s, with the recent covid-19 pandemic, there has been an unprecedented resurgence of classic hobbies. Many people took up new hobbies during the pandemic with some of the most common ones being cooking, gardening, puzzling, and knitting. All of these repopularized hobbies have benefits beyond just keeping oneself occupied.
Hobbies hold many surprising benefits. Hobbies can be defined as leisure time activities that are done for pleasure. Although all types of hobbies can benefit a person in some way, actively engaging hobbies in which one has to put effort into are the most beneficial. The best examples of actively engaging hobbies are classic hobbies like writing, reading, art, physical activity, and so on. Within the past year, hobbies have made a remarkable resurgence due to the pandemic. Despite the decline in the practice of traditional hobbies, they have untold universal benefits and specific benefits.
All hobbies that are actively engaging have benefits. And although some hobbies have specific benefits, there are benefits universal to all types of active hobbies. Generally, universal benefits of hobbies relate to conditioning and maintaining one’s physical and mental health; they can also benefit other areas of one’s life such as social interactions and time management.
Due to the mental demands of actively engaging hobbies, they can truly benefit one’s cognitive health. Hobbies require one to think in creative, new ways, different from typical mental activities. In fact, hobbies can decrease the risk of dementia. A 2010 study concluded, “Engaging in hobbies for 1 or more hours every day might be protective against dementia later in life” (Hughes, Ganguli, Vander Bilt, & Chang). Additionally, the amount of hobbies one has can further decrease the likelihood of mental decline by “8-11%” (Randolph). Hobbies involve unique thought processes which shape and stretch one’s brain capacity. They create neural pathways, connecting concepts that one previously believed to be unrelated, allowing for new and different angles of thought. Prevention of mental decline is the result of having a well-developed mind, practising mentally engaging hobbies is one way to hone a well-developed mind.
In addition to decreasing the likelihood of mental decline, hobbies also improve one’s general cognitive abilities. Studies have found that hobbyists “tend to have better memory and executive functioning skills” (Randolph). Tasks included in “executive functioning” include self-control, attention, planning, making choices and judgments, and problem-solving. Cognitive benefits of hobbies improve not only one’s performance in their hobbies but can also extend to various other life aspects.
Not only do hobbies offer untold mental advantages, but they also have physical benefits. Pleasurable activities, like hobbies, are linked to “lower blood pressure, smaller waist circumference, and a lower body mass index” (Pillay). Furthermore, these benefits apply to all hobbies, not just physically engaging ones. Obviously, physically demanding hobbies can keep one healthy and fit, but all hobbies can result in physical benefits.
Though cognitive and physical health benefits of hobbies are more apparent in everyday life, the benefits of having hobbies extend into one’s social life and time management.
Hobbies affect multiple aspects of one’s social life. First, having a hobby or hobbies makes one vastly more interesting as people with hobbies “have experiences and stories that they can share with others” (University of Arkansas). Furthermore, they “add layers to your identity… and richness to your self-concept” (Kurtz). Having hobbies allows one to foster connections and present themselves to the world in a multi-faceted, complex way. Personal depth creates interest as peers are able to discover that one has a unique story and perspective. Like a cliff-face, hobbies are grooves, cracks, and outcroppings that others can latch on to better understand one as a person. Without these hand-holds, one has nothing for peers to hold onto, nothing that makes them relatable or compelling. Of course, hobbies are not the only outcroppings on one’s cliff-face; experiences, personality, and flaws are also attributes that peers can latch onto. However, hobbies greatly shape these traits. For example, someone who enjoys needlepoint is likely detail-oriented. One’s hobbies determine the features of one’s cliff-face, and the features of one’s cliff-face determine if and how peers will relate to one. Second, hobbies provide a sense of community because of a shared love of a particular hobby. A hobby allows one to meet people who share their passions and form new bonds because of those passions (Kurtz). Clearly, a mutual avocation promotes social development between peers because they share a common interest.
Having a hobby or hobbies can also promote more effective time management skills. Associate professor of psychology Jaime L. Kurtz cites Parkinson’s Law in a Psychology Today article, saying that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” (Kurtz). The principle is that when one has more tasks that need to be accomplished, they will use their time more effectively. Scheduling dedicated time for a hobby can make one more productive and efficient because they have less time to do other activities outside of their hobby.
Despite the wide variety of hobbies, all hobbies involve universal benefits like cognitive and physical health, rewarding social interactions, and time management skills. Each benefit is just one reason to have a hobby, but the fact that one can gain all of these benefits proves how important it is to have a dedicated and actively engaging hobby.
Although all hobbies provide the universal benefits discussed above, they also provide unique advantages as well. This section will explore the unique benefits of some of the most popular classical hobbies.
When one thinks of the quintessential hobby, they likely think of art, specifically visual art. Visual art is mentally stimulating while also relaxing and enjoyable, everything that a hobby should be. In addition to the universal benefits associated with all hobbies, visual art helps improve creative and critical thinking and can bolster self-esteem.
Art is obviously creative in nature, so it is no surprise that creating art on a regular basis fosters creative thinking skills. Since art is open-ended, someone who practices art as a hobby is allowed the chance to stretch their mind “[practice] creative skills” and “[engage] with [their] imagination” (Unite). Furthermore, creative thinking skills can be applied outside the realm of art; they can extend to all types of open-ended problem-solving.
In addition to creative thinking, art also furthers critical thinking. By carefully considering details, an artist engages in critical thinking, allowing them to produce art more effectively. Since “Good art is often complex” (Walden University), a good artist is often required to analyze and interpret information effectively. Once again, this is a useful skill that lends itself to all aspects of life, which is yet another reason that art can be a beneficial hobby.
Finally, visual art can massively benefit one’s self-esteem through practice and dedication. As a hobby that produces a positive accomplishment, art “can release the neurotransmitter dopamine” (Unite). Dopamine is a rewarding pleasure chemical, so when it is released it makes one feel good. Moreover, practicing and improving one’s art skills provides a greater sense of accomplishment, particularly if there is visible growth. One can take pride in their art, which, in turn, improves their self-esteem.
Overall, visual art carries impressive benefits which can be applied to both art itself and to multiple other aspects of life with great effect.
Another common hobby is reading. Some may argue that reading books is the perfect hobby: it is inexpensive, it does not require a large time commitment, it can suit many tastes, and, most importantly, it holds profound benefits like improved vocabulary, empathy, and academic success.
First, and probably most obvious, reading can strengthen one’s vocabulary. Reading regularly exposes one to new words which can then be added to one’s vocabulary. Having a large vocabulary leads to improved “scores on standardized tests… and job opportunities” (Stanborough & Moawad). Furthermore, complex vocabulary improves one’s communication and social skills as they will be familiar with words that are more apt for different situations.
Besides exposing one to new vocabulary, reading can also introduce new information and perspectives. Reading develops a broad, deep breadth of knowledge, an undeniable benefit of the hobby. In addition, “people who read literary fiction… show a heightened ability to understand the feelings and beliefs of others” (Stanborough & Moawad). Being more empathetic is a benefit from reading because empathy is a crucial social trait and it allows one to see a situation from multiple perspectives which would ultimately help lead to the best solution.
The previously mentioned benefits of reading likely all factor into one of the greatest benefits of the hobby, particularly for students. Reading as a hobby has been shown to increase performance in all core school subjects. A recent study titled “The Impact of Pleasure Reading on Academic Success” conducted by Christy Whitten, Sandra Labby, and Sam L. Sullivan found that high school students who consistently read for pleasure had higher grades than their non-reading peers in English, math, science, and history classes (Whitten, Labby, & Sullivan). Reading can provide greater understanding in all subjects leading to improved grades which, in turn, can lead to a more successful future.
Reading has countless, unique benefits that can improve one’s life in general because the benefits are so broad that they can be applied to nearly any facet of life.
Though it might be inferred that reading and writing have similar benefits when practiced as hobbies, in actuality, writing has benefits more akin to those of visual art. However, writing as a hobby still carries a unique set of benefits including clearing the mind, planning, and conceptualizing ideas.
Writing can take many forms including journaling, short stories, and letters, making it an outlet for personal grievances, emotions, and creativity. It comes as no surprise that writing as a hobby can clear the mind. Just writing ideas down on paper helps decrease distracting thoughts allowing one to go about their day “working, solving problems, and just enjoying life,” (Jonson). The act of writing allows thoughts to be detached from the mind, which can calm and clear the mind. A clear mind leads to a more focused and productive day as there are no distracting ideas taking one’s mind off of the current task.
Besides clearing the mind of unwanted thoughts, writing can also improve one’s planning skills as writing regularly requires much forethought and organization. Whether writing fiction, non-fiction, or even in a diary writing “requires focusing of attention, planning and forethought, organization of one’s thinking, and reflective thought,” (Smith) in order to be effective and successful. As most students come to learn, outlining and organization are critical parts of the writing process, so, naturally, writing as a hobby would further develop these crucial planning skills. Furthermore, like most benefits of hobbies, organizational skills can be applied in a broader context.
Finally, writing can improve one’s ability to conceptualize difficult ideas. Through the process of writing, one is able to “concretize abstract ideas and to ‘connect the dots in their knowledge,’” (Smith). Writing regularly provides one with the opportunity to contrive complex topics through their work strengthening both their knowledge and their ability to make associations between different concepts and topics.
Writing as a hobby can provide one with benefits like a clear mind, and enhanced planning and conceptualization skills, all of which can be valuable while writing and while doing countless other activities.
Playing an instrument, like visual art, often comes to mind as a classic, timeless hobby, and, like visual art, playing an instrument has benefits for the practitioner, including improved dexterity and communication skills.
Playing an instrument is often a delicate, meticulous, and precise task; it requires refined hand and finger movements, and sometimes great breath control, so it should come as no surprise that playing an instrument can improve one’s dexterity. One study found that music lessons are helpful for people recovering from strokes because musical “training elicits a change in the reorganization of the sensorimotor cortex that results in improved movement quality” (Shipman). Though this research was done on stroke survivors, the findings can certainly be applied to the general public: the process of learning to play an instrument changes the structure of the brain, allowing for more refined movements. However, dexterity does not only apply to the quality of movement but also the speed of movement. A study conducted by the University of Montreal found that “musicians had significantly faster reaction times” (PianoPower) than non-musicians. It is commonly accepted that increased speed equates to an increased degree of difficulty, so progressing in playing an instrument, naturally, increases one’s speed and reaction time. The benefits of increased dexterity can be applied throughout life; for example, refined movements might help one thread a needle, and a quick reaction time could prevent a car accident.
In addition to improving one’s dexterity, playing an instrument can further one’s communication skills. Typically, music is not self-taught, meaning that one usually learns music through lessons which can provide a way to build social skills. One study concluded that “Group music lessons provide an opportunity for people to build bonds and positively affect lifestyle choices” and “can help improve communication skills” (Shipman). Moreover, music in itself is a way of communication, so a better understanding of music should lead to better communication skills besides those learned during group lessons. Communication skills can be applied nearly anywhere but can be especially effective in relationships and in the workplace.
Without a doubt, playing an instrument as a hobby has numerous benefits, including improved dexterity and communication skills, which can be applied to areas throughout one’s life.
Although most people know how to cook and do it frequently, only some people would consider cooking to be a personal hobby. However, cooking as a hobby can have benefits, specifically being able to control what one is eating, and healthier eating habits.
It should come as no surprise that cooking gives the practitioner more control over what exactly they are putting into their body. Cooking for oneself allows for far greater “control over the ingredients” (Robinson, Segal, & Segal). Controlling ingredients can be especially helpful for people following specific diets and people with dietary restrictions. Cooking allows one to easily avoid or substitute certain ingredients eliminating the hassle of meticulously inspecting the contents of food that was not prepared by oneself.
Cooking as a hobby is also generally more healthy than not cooking for oneself. In fact, one study found that “People who frequently cook dinner at home consume fewer calories than those who cook less” (Harvard Health Publishing). Furthermore, the study also suggested that “those who frequently cook at home… also consume fewer calories on the occasions they eat out” (Harvard Health Publishing). From these findings, it can be generally concluded that people who cook for themselves have healthier eating habits than those who do not cook at home. Clearly, healthy eating is a benefit of cooking as a hobby.
Despite the commonness of cooking, not everyone can claim cooking as a hobby, but those that do likely experience the benefits of being selective about their ingredients and healthier eating habits.
Physical activities, like sports, are often categorized separately from hobbies, yet they can easily qualify as hobbies especially with their highly unique benefits of overall physical fitness and increased endurance.
It should come as no surprise that people who engage in a physically active hobby will have an improved amount of physical fitness. In order to effectively perform most physically active hobbies, one needs to have adequate physical health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “evidence shows that physical activity can help… maintain… weight over time” (CDC). In addition, certain physical activities can tone certain parts of the body, one example being that horseback riding has the unique ability to tone the upper leg and hip. However, physical activities must be engaged in with the frequency of a hobby in order to gain the benefit of physical health. The Mayo Clinic explains that “Consistency is key” (Mayo Clinic). Regular engagement in a physically active hobby can provide the benefit of improved physical health.
Physically active hobbies can also increase one’s endurance and energy. Physical activity “can improve… muscle strength and… endurance” (Mayo Clinic). Regularly pushing oneself to their physical limits builds one’s endurance, allowing for easier completion of simpler tasks. Improving endurance also allows one to engage in physical activity in a more in-depth way because they have trained to endure those conditions for longer periods of time. Elevated endurance is especially applicable to physical activity, but can also be useful in many facets of life.
Physically active hobbies, such as different types of sports, can provide many unique benefits, most notably improved physical fitness and endurance.
It is clear that all hobbies carry their own unique benefits, all of which can be applied both within the hobby itself and in life in general.
Even though the popularity of classic, engaging hobbies has varied wildly throughout the past century, it is undeniable that hobbies have strong benefits for those that practice them. All hobbies have mental and physical health benefits, social benefits, and time management benefits. In addition, hobbies have specific benefits like improving critical thinking, empathy, organization, dexterity, eating habits, endurance, and numerous others. The benefits that hobbies provide are so valuable for both the hobby throughout life. Everyone should engage in hobbies so they can enrich themselves with the unfathomable, vastly rewarding benefits they provide in life today.
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Randolph, J. (2020, April 9). The Benefits of Brain-Boosting Hobbies [Editorial]. Psychology Today. Retrieved April 22, 2021, from psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-healthy-engaged-brain/202004/the-benefits-brain-boosting-hobbies
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Whitten, C., Labby, S., & Sullivan, S. L. (2016). The Impact of Pleasure Reading on Academic Success. The Journal of Multidisciplinary Graduate Research, 2, 48-64.