A case for prioritizing hobbies


What are your favourite hobbies? 

When recently asked this, I was left blankly staring into the abyss for a shamefully long time, trying to picture how I spend my free time. Since starting university, the past three years have been a tough balancing act in which I struggle to keep both my school and social lives somewhat afloat. Without realizing it, the very concept of “free time” seemed to end along with childhood. 

As students in the achievement-oriented culture of university, it can be easy to get wrapped up in studying, networking, job-searching, and, on a good day, not neglecting your friendships. With all this in mind, I often feel that I don’t have a lot of space in my schedule for leisure hobbies, and it turns out I am not alone in this. When asked how she spends her spare time during the semester, UW undergraduate student Madison Szeryk responded, “I find that by the time I get home from studying, if I choose to read or paint, I end up sacrificing my sleep.” Olivia Orlic, also an undergraduate, felt similarly, stating “I wish I had more time.” It seems the struggle to effectively allocate time for recreational pursuits is not a unique experience for many students.

Contemplating my dwindling list of interests left me reflecting on all the various hobbies I once enjoyed growing up, like drawing, playing the piano, and swimming. I was never concerned with being the best at any of these — I just had fun doing them. Remembering this simple truth, I asked myself: Why should doing something simply for the pleasure of it have to end in childhood? After all, isn’t the joy one derives from something enough to justify it being a part of one’s life?

In coming to this conclusion, I committed to making more time in my life for hobbies. The only rules were that they were things that I am not getting graded (or judged) on, or paid for. In other words, rather than being supplementary to work or school, they must be things that I simply enjoy doing. 

I took watercolour classes and dance classes. I tried baking and even tried my hand at poetry. The commonality among all these pursuits was that I wasn’t fundamentally concerned with the results. I just wanted to have fun, learn something new, and take my mind off the stresses of school for a while. Because these were my only goals, there was no pressure to strive for perfection. It didn’t matter that my watercolours resembled those of a six year old, or that my dancing still made my sister laugh. This is not to say I didn’t bring a level of commitment to these activities — I always made an effort to do my best, but I never forgot that I was primarily there to let my hair down and escape reality for a brief moment.  

And that is exactly what I did. I came to realize that on days in which I partake in at least one hobby, I feel less stressed, more confident, and happier. I also noticed I felt more inspired and energized at work and in school. I noticed particularly significant results in my mood when regularly partaking in a diverse range of activities targeting different skills (such as dancing as a form of physical exercise, or watercolour as a creative outlet). As it turns out, this is not delusional thinking on my part. There is an abundance of scientific evidence highlighting the importance of hobbies in supporting physical and mental health. 

A study conducted by the National Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology in Japan and the Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care in London illustrates health benefits that could be attributed to hobby engagement. The study used data from thousands of adults across 16 countries collected between 2008-2020. The results showed an association with having a leisure hobby and less symptoms of depression and higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction. 

Furthermore, similar results were found in a study conducted by the Society of Behavioral Medicine in 2015 of a community sample of 115 people from the Northeast United States. The study collected data on participants mood, stress levels, heart rate and cortisol when engaged and not engaged in a leisure activity. Results indicated that people who regularly take part in hobbies are often less stressed and even experience a lower heart rate when engaged in such activities. 

During this busy stage in our lives, opening a crossword book or doing some knitting are often the last thing to be found on our to-do lists. Like many of you, I thought that with the jam-packed schedule of a student, such activities were a silly waste of time. But once I actually made space for them, I changed my tune. Now I genuinely believe there can be great value (beyond a grade) in doing something just for the sake of doing it. After all, how can anything be a waste of time if it makes you happy?

If you are not sure where to get started you do not have to look further than campus. There are over 200 clubs at UW, and with everything from chess to salsa, odds are you will find something that catches your eye.