Maybe you’re a weekend woodworker. Perhaps there’s nothing you find more satisfying than a day spent on decoupage. Or you may love jamming on the guitar with your garage-band pals. If you’re like most people, there’s something you love doing just for fun. Chances are, you’ve never bothered to think about what exactly you get out of it—beyond a beautiful birdhouse, a perfectly decorated end table, or a smokin’ heavy metal solo. But, if you dig a little deeper, it turns out that having a hobby can bring you all kinds of unexpected benefits.
On the most basic level, you pursue a hobby because you like it, not because you’re thinking about whether it’s good for you. However, it’s that deep interest and level of engagement that can be a fast track to achieving “flow”—becoming so absorbed in what you’re doing that for a while you happily lose all sense of everything else, including your fears, anxieties, and daily stresses. This kind of attention to the moment, without judgment or worry that you’ve made a mistake, is a form of mindfulness, which can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
“Hobbies distract you and redirect your energy,” explains Susan Albers, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and the author of 50 More Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food. “Some hobbies soothe you on a neurobiological level. Others release dopamine, the pleasure chemical in your brain.”
But hobbies—and flow—are more than just distractions. They can help you express yourself and your creativity. “If you choose a hobby that is personally meaningful, where you can put your own stamp on the final product, it can be a great means of self-expression,” says Jaime Kurtz, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at James Madison University, in Virginia. “If your hobby is cooking, consider going a little beyond what a recipe calls for, adding a different kind of spice or a decorative flourish. Find some way to make it yours.”
That sense of connection to your hobby is what can make it magical. “To me, singing is the most wonderful form of self-expression,” says WW member and amateur musician Erika Decaster of Tucson, AZ. “You can convey feelings through singing that you wouldn’t necessarily be able to articulate with words. Sadness, joy, anger, contentment— whatever it may be, it can be expressed effortlessly through singing.”
As if that weren’t enough, your hobby can also give you a feeling of independence, a sense of accomplishment, and connections to others—three fundamental factors that every human requires to thrive, says Jenny Taitz, PsyD, a psychotherapist and the author of How To Be Single and Happy.
Think about it: “You freely choose hobbies because you like them, not because you’re being forced to or you’re getting paid,” Kurtz points out. Hobbies also involve learning new skills and improving old ones, and they provide opportunities to connect with other people, whether they’re hobbyists who share your passion or simply those lucky enough to receive the fruits of your labor, like the co-workers who get to enjoy some of the cookies you baked.
Perhaps the most surprising bonus is that the confidence, purpose, and motivation that your hobby gives you can spill over into other areas of your life, Kurtz says. Once you prove to yourself you can master one task—even if it’s as basic as purling a row or playing a scale—it’s easier to believe that you can master others, even if they’re unrelated, like taking on a new role at work or reaching your weight-loss goal.
Hobbies know no age limit. Young and old alike like to get involved in creative projects. In fact, millennials are increasingly enjoying hands-on activities tinged with nostalgia: wreath-making, crocheting, gardening, embroidery, even the kind of artisanal pickling featured on Portlandia. Classics like painting, knitting, and scrapbooking are going stronger than ever, while modern technology is enabling new activities, like online video collaging. And don’t overlook the power of HGTV: Homemakers across the country are fixin’ up their homes. “The thing I like most about decorating my home is the fact that I can express myself. To see a finished product that I put hard work into makes it beautiful,” says WW member April Ferguson of Port Republic, MD, who always loved interior design but really got into it in 2016. “I feel like it’s a form of therapy.”
There are almost as many ways to be creative as there are people, but we found five hobbies popular among our Members on Connect that have been shown to provide even more physical and emotional plusses. Find out why—and what our Members have to say about how to get started.
Ruth Masciarelli, Georgetown, TX, @RUNFC
One rewarding aspect of many hobbies is that you can enjoy them throughout your life. “I started taking photos when I was a kid, going from using film to getting a digital point-and-shoot camera and now using a DSLR [digital single-lens reflex],” says WW member Ruth Masciarelli. “I love the whole creative process, which is a nice balance with my career as a health-care provider. With digital cameras, I love the immediate results and instant feedback, and the ability to adjust the settings and exposure right away.” Taking photographs can let you express aspects of your emotional life you may not even consciously be aware of, according to a 2011 study conducted at Rider University in New Jersey. Giving voice to your emotions—literally, or through metaphors or symbols—could let you better understand, manage, and regulate them. “Photography lets me express my artistic side without feeling judged, and create something beautiful and interesting that reflects the splendor of this magnificent world around us,” Ruth says. What’s more, it lets you fully immerse yourself in the process. “The precise nature of creating a still image requires me to slow down, pay attention to the details, and truly be in the moment.”
Ruth’s Tips for Newbie Photographers
- Seek out others’ insights. Watch tutorials online, take classes, or join photo clubs to meet like-minded individuals.
- Do research. Study successful photographers to get ideas about what subjects and compositions draw your eye.
- Snap, snap, snap! Most importantly, take lots of photos, in different lighting, at different angles.
Putting on a Play
Michael Freed, Stony Brook, NY, @THEBRAIN631
Whether you’re behind the scenes working on a set or designing costumes, or onstage in front of an audience, getting involved in theater offers a wealth of physical and mental benefits. Acting can be a way to get out of your comfort zone and become an entirely different person. “When I’m Michael, I’m one of the most shy, quiet, reserved people you would ever meet,” says Michael Freed. “I find it so much more comfortable to socialize as a character than as myself.” Audience members can connect to a performance, too. “I have been the mayor of Port Jefferson, NY, for the town's annual Charles Dickens Festival for the past few years, and audiences like the character I’ve created,” Michael says. Stage and set designers as well as people who work on any other aspect of stagecraft can reap similar benefits from engagement in their craft of choice—it’s a matter of personal interest.
Michael’s Tips for Newbie Actors
- Look around. Search online for local community theater, dinner theater, Renaissance fairs, or festivals.
- Come as you are. Scripts call for actors of all shapes, sizes, and ages.
- Don’t fear stage fright. Instead, practice, practice, practice—whether that’s memorizing lines or researching the details of a character’s life.
Erika Decaster, Tucson, AZ, @EREDDE
Do you secretly dream of taking up the sax? Do you belt out your favorite tunes in the car? Or do you regret quitting childhood piano lessons? It’s not too late to go for it! Getting involved in any kind of musical endeavor is a wonderful way to achieve flow and boost your mood. You may also reap a few unexpected physical and mental health benefits, such as improved mental sharpness and lower anxiety. Playing an instrument helps improve reaction time and the speed with which you can process incoming sensory information, and it may even slow the onset of dementia. “I love the physicality of singing—the breathing, the posture, the flood of sound when everything aligns just right and your body becomes this beautiful instrument. It’s incredibly empowering,” Erika Decaster says. And the power of song can become a form of healing. “Singing is both engaging and relaxing. It requires concentration and focus, which I think rejuvenates both body and spirit. I always feel better after singing.”
Erika’s Tips for Newbie Singers
- Sing out! The more you get to know your instrument by using it, the better you’ll become.
- Join a choir. There are groups for every level, from elite to nonauditioned. Find one that fits your comfort and skills and jump in.
- Take voice lessons. A good teacher can help you improve your technique, build your confidence, pick music that suits your voice—and find gigs in your area!
Sarah Yu, Chicago, @SEARAYSHAKE
Whether you’re whipping up an apple pie just like Grandma used to make or poring over a brand-new recipe, baking can bring you all kinds of satisfaction. In 2014 researchers from the University of Huddersfield in England conducted in-depth, qualitative interviews with 14 hobbyist bakers to discern just how beneficial baking was to well-being. Participants reported feeling a deep sense of enjoyment, happiness, pride, and satisfaction from the activity. They also confirmed what any amateur baker learns from the moment she preheats the oven: Following a recipe (or concocting your own) is a surefire way to take your mind off the pressures of a 24/7 work culture, among other life stresses. Sarah Yu of Chicago, who’s been baking her whole life, enthusiastically agrees. “It’s a meditative task. Now that I’m on WW, it’s been fun to refine recipes that work with my healthy lifestyle. Currently, I’m super-digging a recipe for Greek yogurt chocolate banana muffins from Chelsea’s Messy Apron, a food blog I found on Instagram. They’re 6 Smart- Points value for the skinny version, which uses fat-free Greek yogurt. Warm them up in the microwave for 15 seconds, and you’ll feel like you’re eating a scrumptious warm banana bread muffin crossed with a fudgy dark-chocolate brownie.”
Sarah’s Tips for Newbie Bakers
- Get the tools. Invest in a nice set of measuring cups and spoons. Precise measurements are crucial in baking!
- Be a sponge. My friend introduced me to a fat-free fudge brownie mix, which uses nonfat yogurt instead of butter. I now do that in other similar recipes.
- Bake with a friend. Get your hands dirty while learning from others who have more skills than you. Bonus: You’ll get a treat at the end!
Rebecca Kollmer, Levittown, NY, @BECCAK917
Learning a craft—like woodworking, knitting, pottery—can solve problems you didn’t know you had. “Once I started knitting, I liked it because of how mindless it became,” says convert Rebecca Kollmer, who began learning her craft last year. “It’s perfect for my hour-long train ride to work, because it helps me ease into the day.” Research suggests such creative activities can also reduce your perception of pain and lower anxiety. “Knitting is incredibly relaxing. I have some anxiety in big crowds—like a packed train—so it really helps me zone out and focus on the scarf, hat, or blanket I’m making,” Rebecca says. And it gives her major bragging rights. “My office has been so cold that I’ve used the blanket scarf I made every day since I finished it. Everyone knows that I made it myself!”
Rebecca’s Tips for Newbie Knitters
- Messing up is OK. When I looked back at one row I knitted, I realized a stitch must have fallen off the needle. Big picture: I messed up 5 stitches out of 22,725!
- Try a kit. Using a beginner’s kit, I was able to knit myself a hat over one weekend.
- Follow your lead. First I made a hat, then a few blanket scarves. They get prettier and prettier.
Have a passion you love pursuing? Share a sample—and your feelings—on Connect: #showandtell
Want to follow the conversation on Connect? Here are some popular hashtags from hobbyists in the WW app!
#happy #feelingenergized #myturn #photography #crochetersofww #crochet #actorsofww #diy
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