In our success-driven, metric-obsessed world, most adults pursue their careers with an almost single-minded focus. Besides familial and social obligations, our limited free time usually gets soaked up by mind-numbing content on screens of various sizes. Research, however, advocates that we adopt a more rounded and proactive approach to life by cultivating and pursuing hobbies. In an article in The New York Times, writer Tara Parker-Pope outlines the benefits of nurturing our hobbies.
She cites a research study involving over 1000 participants with various health conditions. Those who engaged in leisure activities exhibited better health indices like body mass index, blood pressure and presence of stress hormones. Additionally, the hobbyists also reported superior sleep hygiene, negating the argument that practicing a vocation will only eat into your scarce but sacred sleep time. Those who took part in enriching activities were also more satisfied with their lives, had a wider and more varied social network, and were imbued with a greater sense of meaning and purpose.
And, interestingly, those who nurture their creative facets in their spare time are more innovative on the job. Parker-Pope cites a study involving over 400 workers that found that those were pursued hobbies had a greater sense of control over their lives and sometimes learned new skills that were handy at work as well. But Parker-Pope sagely cautions you not to choose a hobby that might enhance your performance at work. Instead, she exhorts you to pick an activity that you find meaningful, harnesses your strengths and boosts your happiness. And, if it happens to aid your work, treat that as icing on the proverbial cake.
While you may be convinced of all the benefits that hobbies bestow, you may still feel that your tight schedule cannot accommodate them. Before you give up on Kathak classes or invest in terrace-gardening implements, take stock of how you parcel out time in your life. Parker-Pope seeks advice from Laura Vanderkam, an expert on work-life balance, who advocates surveying your life in weeks not days. While your days may seem choc-a-bloc, when you look at an average week in your life, you are likely to find small snatches of free time that can be devoted to fun and fulfilling pursuits.
Vanderkam also urges us to examine our screen habits as many people fritter away hours mindlessly scrolling through websites, surfing channels or skimming through tweets. Instead of rejuvenating us, unproductive screen time only leaves us drained and at times, even dejected. As most of us use screens when we work, we can easily slip from working into wasting precious moments unless we make a concerted effort to grow more self-aware in this regard.
Once you carve out time, how do you go about finding a hobby that’s right for you? Parker-Pope points out that while a hobby may stem from an interest, it goes beyond it as it requires engagement, commitment and possibly even the learning of new skills and techniques. Reflect on what you have always wanted to do but never got around to doing. What captivated you as a child? Everyday activities like cooking, gardening and even driving can morph into hobbies if they are pursued with a desire to further your skills and knowledge.
Don’t discount serendipitous forces that can lead you to an appealing project. Browsing through a crafts store may inspire you to try your hand at quilling while a visit to an art gallery may impel you to mess around with clay. A visit to a concert may finally goad you to restring your rusty guitar. Signing up for a class can also help you discover latent proclivities. You don’t have to limit yourself to conventional hobbies. If you enjoy organising and cataloguing, perhaps, you can finally bring order to the thousands of digital photos that are haphazardly stored in various devices.
While it’s fine to dabble and try out various pursuits in the initial stages, whittle down your hobbies to one or two at a time, or else you are unlikely to experience the thrill and fulfilment of gaining proficiency in a particular domain. Once you uncover and hone new affinities, hitherto unknown even to you, the process is likely to motivate you to continually enhance yourself.
(The author is an avid blogger. Her forthcoming book will be released by Rupa Publications.)