We have a lot of conversations with clients around “What is the life you want to live?”. It’s not uncommon that successful people have been singularly focused and as they approach retirement this question can raise anxiety about how they are going to spend their free time. It’s never too late to learn a new hobby or get reacquainted with an old one. Check out the Smarter Living article from the NY Times.
In your quest for a balanced life, have you neglected your hobbies? As children, we are experts at finding hobbies. We play sports, take dance and music lessons, collect action figures and spend our days learning everything from languages to wood shop. But somewhere on the path to adulthood, we stop trying new things and spend less time on our non-career interests. It’s not too late. Use this guide to get inspired, spark your interests and follow your passion toward a new hobby.
Hobbies Are Good For You
Need some convincing that you need a hobby?
Let’s start with some science. A large body of research suggests that how you spend leisure time matters to your health, and that your hobbies are good for you in many ways.
In 2010, a team of researchers from universities in Kansas, Pittsburgh and Texas published the results of four large studies with a total of 1,399 participants, including men and women with various health problems, such as upper respiratory illness, arthritis and breast cancer. The researchers developed a scale called the Pittsburgh Enjoyable Activities Test to measure the effect of hobbies and leisure pursuits on overall health. Here’s what they found:
Better physical health. People who scored higher on the enjoyable activities test had lower body mass index, smaller waists, lower blood pressure, lower stress hormones and better overall physical function. While it’s possible that people who start out healthy are more likely to engage in hobbies, the findings are consistent with other research showing that having hobbies and other leisure pursuits is associated with a variety of benefits, including less severe disease and greater longevity.
More sleep. While you may think that a hobby will take up too much of your leisure time or cut into your sleep, the Pittsburgh study showed that people who spent more time on their hobbies actually got better sleep.
Lower stress. A large body of research shows that leisure activities can help reduce stress. The Pittsburgh study showed that people who took part in a lot of enjoyable activities dealt better with stressful life events. People who scored high on the enjoyable activities test showed lower levels of negative moods and depression, and higher positive attitudes than their low-scoring counterparts.
Happiness. People who said they participated often in enjoyable activities also had greater life satisfaction and felt their lives had a greater sense of purpose and meaning.
More friends. Notably, spending more time on hobbies and leisure pursuits was associated with having a larger and more diverse social network. And we know that a strong social network is a key factor in healthy aging.
And there’s one additional benefit to having a hobby that may surprise you.
Improved work performance. A study at San Francisco State University found that employees who had creative outlets outside of the office were better at creative problem-solving on the job. The findings were based on studies of 430 workers and military personnel that found that having a hobby gave workers a chance to recover from the demands of their jobs, increased their sense of control and in some cases challenged them to learn new skills that were transferable to work.
A word to the wise: Don’t pick a hobby because it will help you at work. Pick a hobby that makes you happy, and any improvement in your work will just be a bonus!
How to Make Time for a Hobby
Yes, we know you are busy, but hear us out. There is time for a hobby.
Most of us have been taught that when it comes to time, productivity is what matters most. As a result, we’ve structured our lives around work rather than play. But with a little thought, you should be able to find more time in your schedule to do the things you love.
Most of us have free time, we just don’t spend it wisely.
The American Time Use Survey measures the amount of time people spend doing various activities, such as paid work, child care, volunteering and socializing. This chart shows how much time full-time employed people spend on various activities during the work week.
Average Hours Per Work Day on Various Activities (Among people who work full time)
- Household chores*: 0.96 hours
- Eating and drinking: 1.11 hours
- Leisure and sports**: 3.04 hours
- Sleeping and personal care: 8.64 hours
- Caregiving (for both children and parents): 0.53 hours
- Shopping: 0.43 hours
- Working: 8.80 hours
*It’s worth noting that the 0.96 hours (58 minutes) spent on household chores is an average. Men spend 49 minutes a day on chores, compared to 80 minutes for women.
**Leisure and sports is another category with a gender difference. Men spend 3.5 hours on leisure and sports, while women spend 2.3 hours.
But those are averages! That’s not me. I’m really busy!
Yes, we believe you! But looking at your time a little differently may help you find that free time you crave.
Think in Weeks, Not Days
Laura Vanderkam, a writer and speaker on work-life balance, recommends thinking of time in weeks rather than days to learn where some extra time might be hiding in your schedule. A week “is really the cycle of life as people actually live it,” she said. Each week is made up of 168 hours. If you work 40 hours and sleep eight hours each night, that still leaves 72 hours. “Maybe you can carve out a few hours of really fun, cool stuff per week. That will make the other 165 hours that are in a week feel a lot more doable,” she explained.
To do that, Ms. Vanderkam recommends tracking a week of your life. You can write down everything you do in half-hour blocks or use these apps recommended by Wirecutter, the New York Times company that reviews products.
Or you can try this simple calculator to take a look at how you are spending your time. It was created by Erik Rood, a Bay Area analyst and founder of a data science service called Data Interview Qs.
Being a data guy, Mr. Rood was using spreadsheets every few months to evaluate how he was spending his time. After talking with friends and co-workers who were also thinking about how they spent their time, he created a simple tool to track hours spent on various activities, including sleeping, working, commuting, gym, chores, grooming and parenting. He has shared the tool on various forums and with friends. Most people, he says, are fascinated. But after playing with the tool, he says, they sometimes get a bit frustrated about the results, because they don’t think they have as much free time as it suggests.
Try it: Calculate Your Free Time
Whatever your results, the calculator typically will show that there is some free time in your day, and that if you adjust a few factors, more free time can be found. “There's a ton of 'busy' time, no matter how most people cut it,” says Mr. Rood. “But small changes can have huge impacts on overall free time when extrapolated out through one's life.”
Are You Mindful of Your Downtime?
One of the reasons our calculations of free time don’t match our reality is that we can lose time doing mindless things like checking email and social media, and clicking around the internet. And sometimes, we just do nothing.
In the book “What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast,” Ms. Vanderkam says one problem is that people often are not mindful about how they are spending free time. Sometimes we come home and “crash” and do nothing after a busy day or week, but Ms. Vanderkam says that’s a mistake. But we shouldn’t spend all of our “free time” catching up on work either.
"Other kinds of work — be it exercise, a creative hobby, hands-on parenting or volunteering — will do more to preserve your zest for Monday's challenges than complete vegetation or working through the weekend," she writes.
And Don’t Let Screens Become Your Hobby
We all know the internet, social media and emails can be a big time-suck. And at the end of a busy week, crashing in front of the television or the laptop might feel like relaxation, but often it’s not. The Journal of Sleep Medicine recently reported that binge watchers get poorer sleep. And screens can be physiologically and psychologically stimulating, whether it’s action sequences on the television or the artificial blue light emitted by our devices. Another negative of screen time: It tends to be a solo pursuit that keeps us from engaging with our loved ones.
Finding time for hobbies in your day means being more thoughtful about how you spend the time you have. When you do have downtime, do you crash and do nothing? Or do you use that time for things you love?
Free Time vs. Too Much Free Time
Here’s some good news. The fact that you don’t have much free time to devote to a hobby is O.K. A recent study found that having too much idle time makes us just as unhappy as not having enough free time. The research, based on two large datasets of 35,375 Americans, examined the relationship between our overall life happiness and the amount of discretionary time we have (defined as awake hours spent doing whatever we want to do). For people who have jobs, the sweet spot of discretionary time is 2.5 hours a day. For people who are retired or not working, the right amount of free time for peak happiness is 4.75 hours a day.
Schedule Your Free Time (But Don’t Overschedule It)
In her book on successful people, Ms. Vanderkam found that the people she profiled all planned their weekends in advance. They didn’t schedule every minute, but they did schedule “anchor events.” One key to making time for a hobby is to schedule time during your week and weekends for it, the same way you would schedule work appointments or social engagements.
Now a caveat: While it’s important to make time for your hobbies, you don’t want to be too rigid in how you schedule them. Research suggests that too much scheduling of leisure time makes it feel more like work and less like fun. In a series of studies reported by Ohio State University, researchers found that when people scheduled specific times and dates for fun activities (like a movie or a coffee break), they enjoyed them less. That doesn’t mean you can’t plan. The same research showed that “rough” scheduling of a leisure activity didn’t steal the pleasure from it. For instance, students who were given a specific time for a coffee and cookie break during finals enjoyed it less than students who were given a two-hour window to stop by and enjoy free coffee and cookies.
“People associate schedules with work,” Selin Malkoc, a co-author of the study, said in a statement about it. Dr. Malkoc is an associate professor of marketing at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. “We want our leisure time to be free-flowing.”
Choosing the Right Hobby
What exactly is a hobby? That may seem obvious, but the lines between hobbies, outside interests and career pursuits can get blurred.
Hobbies vs. Interests
When you are thinking about choosing a hobby, it’s important that you don’t confuse having an “interest” with having a “hobby.”
Interests: Interests typically are the desire to learn about something. An interest can spawn from natural curiosity, professional goals or family experiences. For instance, you may have an interest in learning more about hockey or volleyball because your children are involved in those sports. Or you may love reading books on behavior to help you achieve career goals. But unlike hobbies, an interest requires only intellectual action (to learn about something) and doesn’t require physical action.
Hobby: A hobby is usually defined as any enjoyable leisure activity that we engage in voluntarily and consistently when we are free from the demands of work or other responsibilities. A hobby may be inspired by an interest, but it typically requires more commitment and involves taking action, like learning a new skill, or collecting, building or creating something. Hobbies are essentially the active pursuit of a personal interest.
Finding Inspiration to Pick Your Hobby
How do you decide on a hobby? Here are some ways to figure out what hobby is best suited to you.
What is that thing you’ve always wanted to do? Finding a hobby can mean taking the first step to actively pursue that thing you’ve always thought about doing. Have you ever started a sentence with the words “I’ve always wanted to...”? A friend of mine had always been intrigued by power tools, so at the age of 52 she finally walked into the local senior center’s wood shop. (She was carded to make sure she was over 50.) There she found a retired carpenter who was willing to teach her about wood shop safety and mentor her on some projects. She has built a chair, a bench, a stool and beautiful boxes and given them away to friends.
Look at your childhood. One of the first places to look for inspiration in the search for a hobby is to explore the hobbies of your childhood. Think about what pursuits made you happy as a child. Did you take lessons in dance, music, ice skating or art? Did you play a sport? Did you love to draw, paint, take part in theater or write poems? All of these childhood pursuits can be turned into adult hobbies.
How do you like to spend your time? Conduct your own personal time-use survey to take a closer look at your interests. Do you spend a lot of time reading books? Cooking? Spending time outdoors? Shopping for clothes? Watching old movies? Playing with your dog? All of these activities hold clues for potential hobbies.
Go on a quest for inspiration. Sometimes it takes a few extra steps (literally) to discover a potential hobby. Just walking around a craft store amid the chalk, paints, scrapbooks and bric-a-brac might remind you of an old passion or a fun craft you always wanted to try. Sometimes just enjoying new experiences can spark interest in a hobby. Visiting an art gallery or museum might remind you that you always wanted to paint or learn how to throw ceramics. Going to a concert might spark your interest in learning the cello.
Take a class or a lesson. If something piqued your interest in the past, look for a class to learn more about it. A cooking class, a computer-design class, a painting outing with friends, a make-your-own ceramics store, a belly-dancing class — they can help you learn where your passions reside.
Consider Everyday Activities as Potential Hobbies
Sometimes we take part in activities every day that could become hobbies with a small change in awareness and attitude. The key is to take a favorite passive interest, or an activity that is required of us (but that we like to do anyway), and find a way to turn it into an active hobby. Consider these options.
Cooking. If you spend a lot of time cooking for your family, perhaps you should reframe your interest in cooking and food as a hobby. Consider devoting some free time to the fun parts of cooking. Perhaps you love collecting dishes or unusual cooking gadgets. Take some cooking classes. Have you always loved to bake? Consider a cake-decorating course. Looking for volunteer work? How about taking your cooking talent to a soup kitchen or other organization that feeds people in need? Some parents have even turned the drudgery of making school lunch into a fun Instagram competition.
The Family Pet. We spend a lot of time with our pets, so why not turn to them for hobby inspiration? Train your dog as a therapy dog and spend your free time taking the dog to visit people in hospitals. Or take obedience classes and discover the world of dog agility training and competition.
Home Decoration. Do you spend a lot of time thinking about your home? Turn your passion for home furnishing into a hobby. Offer to help friends decorate their homes, or go room by room in your own home and think about the projects you’d love to complete.
Reading. If you love reading, words and story telling, there are a number of hobbies that could build on that passion. You might decide to collect rare books or make it a point to explore independent bookstores. You can take a writing course, attend story slam events or start a blog.
Shuttling Your Kids to Activities. Sometimes our children’s interests can lead us to our own adult hobbies. I was spending so much time taking my daughter to and from volleyball practice that I offered to volunteer for her club. I helped create a new website, came up with fun ideas for programs and even designed T-shirts for events. If you’re spending a lot of time supporting your child’s extracurricular interests, think about ways you might use that time to create a hobby for yourself.
Organization. If a big part of your life is keeping your family organized, consider turning that skill into a hobby. People find a lot of pleasure in creating scrapbooks, tracking family history, taking photos and creating video memories of family events.
Can Exercise Be a Hobby?
Yes! One of the best (and healthiest) ways to start a hobby is to focus on exercise. One way to make exercise feel more like a hobby is to actively set goals and attend events related to it.
Running. Running is a great hobby, and many runners join running groups and attend road races, where they interact with a community of runners, collect medals and race T-shirts, and discover fun alternate races like mud runs, color runs and destination races in far-flung places.
Yoga. Yoga is a great hobby for many people. Not only do they regularly attend yoga classes, but they also have a passion for yoga clothes and gear, and enjoy attending yoga retreats and learning about group yoga events. Many yoga studios take part in social activism, which is another avenue to pursue as a hobby.
Strength training. Working out and toning your body is a big commitment and certainly counts as a hobby. Some people turn their interest in weight lifting into other pursuits, like obstacle course contests and weight and fitness competitions, One middle-aged mother of two I know spent so much time in the gym she decided to take part in a body-building contest for women.
Meditation. Meditation is exercise for the mind, and an active pursuit of it can turn into a relaxing and fulfilling hobby. Learn to meditate using an app to start, or read our meditation guides. Sign up for some classes and learn about meditation groups and retreats. A whole world of books, experts and meditation experiences will open up to you.
Organizing Your Hobby
Now that you’ve found your hobby, find a dedicated space for it and keep it organized so you can truly enjoy it.