I’ve managed to rediscover the joys of my childhood hobby: collecting autographs. Connecting with folks whose work I admire and sharing my successes with other hobbyists has become an important and blissful part of my week. Although many view hobbies as wasteful or even selfish activities, there is evidence that it keeps me and others like me happy and even healthy.
Experts agree being healthy doesn’t just mean getting enough sleep or exercise or eating right. Rather good health depends on a variety of factors, one of which is maintaining sound psychological health, says Alan Schwartz, Psy.D., director of psychology at Christiana Care’s Center for Comprehensive Behavioral Health.
“I talk a lot with my patients about self-care,” Schwartz says, “and part of taking care of yourself is finding some time for yourself, to be able to do things that help your brain and body heal.”
Doing something out of passion rather than obligation is therapeutic to say the least. Even a small amount of time dedicated to doing something you enjoy can balance out the hours of routine stress that can weight anybody down from time to time. A hobby can:
Reduce stress: If life’s responsibilities are stressing you out, it’s time to start a hobby. Hobbies refocus energy, allowing you to channel that negative energy into something more positive. And that can mean lower blood pressure, total cortisol and body mass index.
Make you happy: And that in turn can make those around you happier, making your relationships more harmonious. “If you have one or two grumpy people, that’s going to be contagious,” says Schwartz. “So if you have someone who is relaxed and can contribute that, that’s contagious as well.
Keep you grounded: Hobbies keep us in the present during times of crisis or transition. When you’re engrossed in an activity you truly enjoy, you are truly focused on the moment instead of worrying about the future or dwelling on the past.
Create eustress: Eustress is that positive kind of stress that motivates you. Hobbies are a great way to access that kind of stress. When you’re doing something for the sheer love of doing it, you feel a rush of excitement and joy. Psychologists refer to this positive mental state as “flow.”
Challenge you: Hobbies provide us with the opportunity to pursue a new activity without the negative stress that comes from a work-related challenge. Moreover, this new challenge can open your mind to new ways of thinking. “When you’re distracted, your brain is still working and you can generate lots of alternative solutions to solve problems,” says Schwartz.
Connect you with other people: Even a solo activity like scrapbooking can introduce you to a new world of like-minded individuals via an online community. Better yet, opt for a group activity like a book club, a performing-arts group or a Zumba class. Social interaction is an integral part of maintaining a healthy mind and psychological balance, says Schwartz.