Gongol.com Archives: September 2021

Brian Gongol

September 21, 2021

News Get a hobby (it's good for you)

Every fall, three entirely predictable events come to pass: Pumpkin-spice novelty foods will reappear in stores, half of America will go utterly football-mad, and half of America will proclaim the sport overrated. (Half and half may be misestimates, so pardon the imprecision.) ■ Sports -- from rec leagues through college and into the pros -- are perfectly good for offering recreation and distraction. They are much better outlets for obsession and unwavering passion than engaging in politics as bloodsport. It's a big business, too: The NCAA says "The total athletics revenue reported among all NCAA athletics departments in 2019 was $18.9 billion." (That's what made the pandemic so costly for athletic departments.) ■ But interesting people have hobbies, too. For a brief moment in history, Covid-19 lockdowns had people doing things like learning to bake bread. With everything else taken off the calendar, people looked to new sources of interest to fill their recreational time. And there were good reasons for hobbies to take up that space: Productive activities -- especially when they're rhythmic and repetitive, like kneading dough -- can be very good outlets for stress and facilitating a meditative state of calm. ■ The struggle to find a "new normal" is likely to take some time. The new and enduring status quo may quite possibly be permanently different than what existed in, say, the autumn of 2019. One of the changes that ought to stick with us is the adoption of hobbies and outside interests that involve neither our occupational interests nor being consumers of entertainment provided by others. Binge-watching football isn't all that different, really, from binge-watching "Tiger King". In modest doses, there's nothing wrong with either. ■ Interesting hobbies, though, shouldn't take second seat to entertainment we consume. They should come first. Hobbies need space within everyday life and on every calendar: They're unequivocally good for mental wellness, giving people not only an outlet in the moment, but also a lingering sense of good feeling. ■ Two things seem to make a hobby ideal: One is a sensory immersion in some kind of rhythm, or some other characteristic that helps the individual to enter what has entered the psychological lexicon as a state of flow. The other is that the hobbyist can make modest growth in their abilities that helps to mark change over time. If one can grow in ability (and reflect on prior experiences), that helps to make the perception of time slow down, since experiences have to be somehow different from the past in order to be encoded as long-term memories. (This is bad news indeed for Fred the Baker.) ■ Whatever seasonal changes may mean to any of us, whether it's the arrival of pumpkin-spice everything or time for tailgating or none of the above, it's appropriate to consider the benefits of "passing the time" in a state that pays psychological dividends. It's all too easy to ask "Where did the time go?" Well-chosen hobbies can slow the clock in all kinds of benevolent ways.

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