The Death of the Hobby Is Sadder Than We Think

People today pursue hobbies at lower rates, and that has more significant implications than one would expect.

By Sarah John, Contributing Writer

One of my favorite things to do is to longboard. More specifically, one of my favorite things to do is to longboard, even though I am very, very bad at it. It’s a hobby I picked up recently, somewhat impulsively, knowing it would realistically have no practical use. My friends thought it was a stupid decision, and in a pragmatic sense, they’re probably right. Others ask why I even started, and when I respond with a simple, “Well, it looked cool,” I often receive two disparate responses — shock or admiration. To me, it’s simple. I’ve always thought that anything can be worth learning, even if it seems useless. But I can tell just from the reactions I receive that having hobbies — not for professional gain but just for the sake of having something to enjoy — is more readily questioned and even seen as a waste of time. And so I began to ask myself an important question: Why is it now considered so abnormal to do things for the sole purpose of, well, just doing them? 

Longboarding is my experiment. It keeps me on my toes. It is not going to become a life-changing passion or career, but I wanted to try something different. This is true even if the skill is simple, like learning how to recover gracefully after falling in public. You’d be surprised how valuable doing things just for the sake of doing them can be. I know that for me, carrying a longboard has initiated countless conversations that otherwise never would have happened. Getting a smile or a compliment on my longboard always adds to my day, and I love when people in the park notice that I’m trying to learn and offer words of encouragement. We are happier, more well-rounded people when we stop limiting ourselves to interests that “make practical sense,” and remember the carefree joy that a good hobby can bring. 

This can be difficult to do though. There is a pressure — one that pervades both young and old alike — to figure out what field you want to specialize in and then exclusively pursue activities relevant to that area. Today, nobody adopts hobbies just because they seem interesting. Today, people try things to become talented at them, to get the immediate reward of stress relief or distraction, but not just to learn something new. Our everyday routines don’t encourage us to try new things at all, instead they tell us to narrow our interests down to our life’s calling and focus on that — especially at NYU, where ambition runs high and the pressure to intern and match the busy city atmosphere makes most hobbies seem frivolous at best.

But there are visible negatives to that. Studies show that without hobbies, people are more likely to feel burnt out and to be more stressed. The lack of hobbies could also affect your health — having hobbies are correlated with health benefits, such as lower blood pressure and cortisol levels. Author Terri Trespicio, in her TedTalk “Stop Searching For Your Passions,” describes the harms of our focus on only learning the skills already widely labeled as useful. She states that after being fired from her job at Martha Stewart, she felt pressure to find the right career, her “one true passion.” But that pressure was so great, it caused an anxiety that kept her from doing anything at all. Eventually she tried a variety of short-term jobs, none of which became lifelong interests or had very obvious benefits to her life plan. But, as she states in her talk, these jobs gave her a “reason to get up in the morning, get showered [and] leave the house.” All of these jobs were a chance to learn something new, even if some were not glamorous at first look.

That is something worth reflecting on. Our obsession with finding the right opportunities may be causing us to dismiss activities that have a wealth of information for us. Hobbies and experimentation are dying art forms, but they are part of what goes into making an interesting human being. It’s worth making the time to try new things. Life is truly just one big balancing act, after all — much like wobbling a longboard through Washington Square Park.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Nov. 19 print edition.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

Email Sarah John at [email protected]