A 42-year-old male tells me, “I often wonder what would happen to my life if I am not working. Weekends are a reminder of that. We do a family breakfast, or possibly go out for lunch. Then the rest of the day is open for everyone to do what they enjoy. My wife and kids spend the day reading, gaming, or play a sport. But it looks like I have forgotten what hobbies are. My family jokes that podcasts I listen to are also work-related. Is it a bad thing if I enjoy my work too much and that’s all I know?”
This is a sentiment I hear more and more people bring to therapy sessions where they wonder what would happen to their life if not for work. Clients often tell me how they have either forgotten about their hobbies or find themselves without any hobbies. Also, sometimes what comes across as hobbies, are masked attempts at increasing our productivity and making most of our time, such as listening to podcasts, watching documentaries that are linked to work. In the last few years there has been an exaggerated emphasis on work productivity, hustle and, in this process, for a lot of people work has become the central focus of their life. As a result, when there is free time available, people experience guilt and don’t know what to do.
For a lot of young people, who were born after the year 2000, the narrative of hobby has taken a different form. Often in workshops and therapy sessions, they tell me how they grew up with the internet and led structured lives where their parents planned their schedule—so they find it hard to understand what to do in their summer break and in their free time. A lot of them often talk about how internships became a way to make most of their free time, and watching reels, scrolling on the internet took the form of hobbies. My worry is that these activities are passive, we are not actively engaged in doing these. They are ways of passing our time, distracting ourself, which is fine for a short duration, but doing it for hours comes with a risk of getting dependent on it.
Our hobbies are what makes us who we are, beyond our work. They are so telling of who we are as people. If one were to unpack the word hobby, it involves engaging and participating in activities that we do in our free time or leisure. These activities allow us to relax, experience pleasure, fun and they are outside of our work. A good way to think about it, is to close your eyes and look at what activities did you do as a child which you deeply enjoyed and had fun with. I often think of hobbies as a way to get out of one’s own head and to actively do things that feel immersive and yet feel light and happy. Over the years, taking daily solitary long walks outdoors in nature without listening to music or podcasts has served as a cocoon and is deeply freeing. I often feel that as a passionate person who loves their work, this has saved me from getting becoming obsessive about work. As adults, we are capable of cultivating new hobbies or rediscovering hobbies that we may have forgotten. As a young adult, I loved reading fiction and somewhere when I started working, I started reading only non-fiction. Now I have discovered the joy of fiction all over again and it feels so calming, and brings about a state of flow where everything pauses. Choosing to keep the phone away, having a fixed time to read and giving myself permission to enjoy has helped me get back to it.
Learning to enjoy leisure and mindfully build time for hobbies is a starting point.
So whether it’s gaming, doodling, crocheting, running, playing an instrument, choose to make time and be careful not to fall in to the trap of excelling at it, but rather enjoy it for the joy and pleasure it brings you.
Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health with Sonali.