Hobbies activate the brain and increase happiness
When we talk about health and well-being, many tend to narrow their gaze to fitness, diet and exercise. While those are certainly important elements of the theme, other activities, hobbies, and projects can also be great measures of general health and happiness, aiding in a more complete and balanced measure of wellness.
Hobbies such as knitting or crocheting, playing a musical instrument, making art, taking a dance class, or doing puzzles or word games can both aid in relaxation as well as provide stimulating mental exercise.
Research conducted at the Mayo Clinic in 2009 suggested that engaging in hobbies could reduce the risk of developing memory problems by 40 percent.
Dr. Ausim Azizi, chairman of the department of neurology at Temple University’s School of Medicine in Philadelphia conducts research on neural activity among people who engage in hobbies. His research shows that when people do things that make them feel good, it activates a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens. This regular neural activity thereby increases the general sense of happiness.
Furthermore, hobbies can increase one’s sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in life, as they are often achievement-based (learn to play a new song, complete a puzzle or piece of art, knit a sweater or build a birdhouse). They can help balance either too much stress or too little stimulation in the rest of life, working to either calm a too busy mind or add a new challenge to an otherwise mundane lifestyle.
Hobbies generally have a positive effect on self-esteem as well. Workplace or interpersonal stress can have a negative effect on a person’s ego, whereas a hobby can help rebuild self-worth and be a reminder of the things you do best.
I am a lover of hobbies and, admittedly, tend to keep too many around. I always keep at least one crochet project going, am an amateur ceramicist, play the piano, love to read, garden, tend to constantly hungry birds, and bake decadent treats — not to mention my athletic hobbies, but I’ll leave those aside for now.
I love hobbies mostly because I have little patience for being bored. I enjoy my hands always doing something, the wheels in my head always turning. I find it easier to relax when I am slowly stitching a new blanket than if I am sitting with nothing in my lap.
Clearly others feel the same way. I watch fans at sports games sitting in the stands working on a needlepoint or knitting project, filling out crossword puzzles or Sudoku. It is an exercise in multi-tasking, which keeps your mind active even if you are otherwise in a relatively sedentary state.
Children are often encouraged to pick up hobbies, take art and craft classes, music lessons, and other expressive activities. Even if a child fails to display natural talent or even interest in art, craft, music, or making, as a society we tend to encourage them to sample things, try their hands at a bunch of “extra-curricular activities” that expand their minds and experiences.
For some reason, as children grow into adults those hobbies become less and less encouraged. Why? Because time gets more and more precious and we sacrifice some of the things that make us happiest.
As adults living in a busy world we tend to whittle away at our hobbies to make more room for other things — often work. We tend to leave little time for learning new things, joining new groups, and being a beginner at things.
However, given the risks of memory loss as well as physical abilities including deterioration of dexterity, flexibility and coordination, perhaps we ought to consider picking up a new hobby and challenging our sense of curiosity.
Perhaps it will open the possibility of a new friend, a new beautiful project, or a greater sense of happiness.
At the very least, it will keep your mind nimble and ready for new challenges that lie ahead.
Mark A. Nelson of Bristol
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