For a city dweller tied down to the rigours of a 9-to-5 job, facing work weeks’ worth of unending deadlines and the stresses they bring, a hobby can hold profound meaning. Happiest Health spoke with those who turned to knitting, gardening and pottery to understand why and how the right hobby can enhance your life.
Anjali Prasad, a talent acquisition specialist, learned from YouTube how to knit dreamcatchers (a Native American charm believed to “catch” bad dreams). Since then, there has been no looking back.
“In the end, when I get the completed result, I feel an incomparable level of satisfaction. I feel a sense of accomplishment which I do not get from my job,” she says.
Research shows that those with hobbies have reduced stress, depression and anxiety and improved mental health, well-being, and social connections.
“Making these dreamcatchers work as therapy for me and help me escape the stresses of a fast-paced work-life ethic,” says Prasad. The benefits are not hers alone either: Her close friends and family get free dreamcatchers as gifts, too!
Don’t stress it
“A hobby is not a responsibility. It is something that is done as a diversion from the things that stress us,” says Dr Aarti Jagannathan, additional professor of psychiatry at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience (NIMHANS). Treating hobbies the way we treat work can diminish the mental health benefits of pursuing them, she warns.
It’s best to keep the rationale behind hobbies as simple as possible. Doing something for nothing else than the simple joy of doing it brings a feeling of abandon – one that comes with tangible mental health benefits.
Nazia’s tryst as a chocolatier started off quite unexpectedly as she and her brother were lazing around a mall and noticed a chocolate shop – and her brother suggested she try her hand at making chocolates. “I was curious and amazed by the idea and started research the next day itself, getting all the ingredients, making my first homemade chocolate,” she says.
Having fun – for your mental health
Nazia’s new hobby made her look forward to coming up with new recipes every day. And, it had visible benefits for her mental health.
“Making chocolates, in the end, turned out to be therapy for me,” she says. “Since then, I have been making chocolates or baking brownies whenever I felt low. It was my stress buster, relief, and mini getaway from reality for a while, accumulating energy to come back stronger for the next day.”
Studies and experts back the benefits of meaningful leisure activities: A 2009 study in Psychosomatic Medicine showed that these play a major role in an individual’s psychosocial and mental well-being.
A 2020 article in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics refers a study with over 8,700 participants, which identified an association between pursuing hobbies and a 30% decrease in chances of developing depression. The study reports consistent results across the board for individuals who reported depression at baseline and those without.
Make time for your hobbies
An issue many people face is sparing time to pursue their hobbies and interests. Here are some pro tips for making time for your hobbies:
- When deciding how much time to allocate to a hobby, think in terms of weeks instead of days and try to dedicate a few hours each week. The art of continuous improvement is driven by persistency.
- You might find that you already have time to spare: The daily bouts of social media usage can tend to put us in “autopilot mode” multiple times a day, as a distraction from daily life. But instead of scrolling, try to use these moments for doing something you enjoy.
- Take mini vacations throughout the day. A 5–10-minute break can interrupt the daily grind, and can be used to listen to your favourite podcast, read a couple pages from a book, or take a walk outside.
“The happiness you get when you grow your meal is incomparable,” says Jeevan, who quit his job as a journalist to become a farmer. He grows coffee, cardamom, areca nut, banana, cardamom, vegetables, and rice in his farm. “We didn’t grow paddy this year as the weather was not conducive for it.”, he said.
“Personally, I love something which is very grounded,” he says. “Especially something like farming,
which connects you with nature in every which way. It inspires me,” Jeevan said.
“It’s a spiritual journey, one that is about finding happiness in the smaller things in life” – Jeevan
Here are 10 common hobbies one can pick up to improve mental wellbeing.
- Coin collection
- Stamp collection
- Collecting seashells
- Writing a journal
- Weekend hiking
- Baking or cooking
- Folding clothes
- Learning Tai-chi, yoga or meditation
The philosophy behind the hobby
“It takes a certain level of skill or experience to master a hobby,” says Mahanth Benni, a video producer now studying pottery at Cold Mountain Studio in the Himalayas. “I was in between jobs and doing a bit of traveling, when my friend told me of a pottery course she was doing at Dharamshala. I joined up soon after.”
When asked about how the decision has affected his mental health, he replied, “I am no longer dependent on anyone for my financial decisions. I live off my savings.” He says the experience taught him how to live more frugally as well as “where to spend, and where to cut down on expenses.”
“Anything that you do happily and with interest, directly helps improve your well-being,” says Dr Jini Gopinath, Mind Matters Clinic, Bengaluru. “You have only 24 hours, and a bandwidth to be mindful about. Be mindful of these things and everything else will fall in place,” adds Dr Gopinath.
Nice article. i can share my experience about inculcating hobbies in my life. Being burnout from daily work and targets.. I started jogging and also joined badminton class. It improved my physical abilities, but gave me sense of inner calm and peace.