Ask any adult about their hobbies, and chances are they’ll get that distant, wistful look in their eyes—a look best described as ambiguous grief. The rite of passage into Responsible Adulthood indubitably killed the hobby. 

We shelved the books we used to make time to read and sometimes even take a stab at writing. We closed up the violin case and packed it up in that tight-lidded container under the stairs, far out of sight and even further out of mind. We donated the figure skates, thinking resignedly that “someone will have so much fun in these”—just not us, though. No time for triple axels in Responsible Adulthood! We sold the pasta roller in a garage sale. We let the paint tubes dry up and the paint brushes get all frayed on the edges.

You get the idea.

I get it—many of our hobbies had to shift to the back burner because we didn’t have time. We got busy with fifty-plus-hour workweeks, climbing the corporate ladder, all things kids and their pet turtles, mowing the lawn, and oil changes. We prioritized other things and lost sight of how fun and recreation are necessary components in a life well lived…that people with hobbies pop up in study after study32 as having less stress and depression and are more satisfied and engaged with their lives (like eighty-year-old Marty playing bridge like a zesty twenty-year-old).

It’s time to bring the hobbies back to life.

The books? They’re still there, waiting to have the dust blown off them and their spines cracked open as you settle into chapter 1 with a big cup of hot chocolate. Your old draft is waiting for you too (unless it’s on an old floppy disc, in which case good luck with that).

The musical instruments are right there where you left them, or they can be purchased all over again because I’m not sure if you’ve heard the news that Amazon delivers everything now? So many ice skates, pasta rollers, cameras, violas, sketchbooks, bowling balls, swimming goggles, sewing machines, tarot cards, cross-stitch stuff, beer-making everything…all ready to Add to Cart and land on your doorstep before the weekend.

In the spirit of memento mori, pull up your life countdown timer. How many Mondays are left on the docket for you? In light of your dwindling years, months, weeks, and days, what passions do you want—no, need—to pursue? Oh, look who suddenly has time for macramé! Does the act of putting your mortality in perspective help you reprioritize what matters in life and reshuffle your activities to reflect the way you really want to spend your time?

It’s time to ignite the embers of hibernating hobbies. Here’s how:

  1. Reincarnate an old hobby. You got to green belt in karate in 2003 and yearn to return? Slam dunk. Stop reading, and go online to investigate local karate classes.
  2. Dream up a new hobby from scratch and dabble in it. Curious about knitting? Buy a starter kit. Wonder about geocaching (don’t we all)? Read up about it. Interested, even mildly, in cake decorating? Let YouTube do the heavy lifting and learn about the joys of fondant; then go make a celebratory single-tiered cake for yourself. One of my seventy-five-year-old clients challenged herself to trying one new thing a month in a veritable Hobby Sampler Platter. She landed on horseback riding.
  3. Spend smart. Spending money on things that support your hobby can help you like your life a little more…because spending money on experiences makes us happier. Way more people report getting happy from an experience they purchased—like a Blogging Bootcamp Weekend or a How to Roll Sushi Once and for All cooking class—than people who bought material goods. With experiences, we can anticipate them and savor them after the fact.
  4. Copy someone else’s hobby. Your friend won’t stop droning on about making her own soap, and the idea doesn’t revolt you? Try it. Your partner is into ax throwing, and you want to risk your life too? Give it a go. You’re likely to like things that people you like, like. Use their hobbies as inspiration.
  5. Just register already. Commit to something before you talk yourself out of it. Years ago I made an appointment for an archery lesson and showed up only because I’d made the appointment and didn’t want to bum the old war vet of an instructor out by no-showing on him. I loved it! For like four months. But I will be better off when the zombie apocalypse hits.
  6. Abandon underwhelming hobbies swiftly. Be careful not to listen to the voice that says you have to “follow through” on your hobby because you paid a lot of dough for top-of-the-line golf clubs or whatever, because “it’s the responsible thing to do.” Hobbies are supposed to make us feel happy, not obligated and trapped. Donate the soap-making stuff if it’s not for you, and find something new you look forward to doing. Oh, and maybe you need to skip the judgment about a waxing and waning commitment to your hobbies. You are allowed to like a hobby and then lose interest in it. It doesn’t make you flaky or fickle. It makes you curious and open to experience if you’re always up for something new. (Just maybe don’t get the best bow and arrow that money can buy if you tend to fizzle on your interests in a hurry.) (Not that I’m speaking from personal experience.) (But I am.)
  7. Carve out time. Even an hour a week—that’s all it takes to spend time on an activity that might spark joy, take your mind off the circus going on around you, maybe make you feel like you’ve accomplished something or made something or scored something (like maybe that elusive 1914 stamp for your collection). What about carving out more than an hour or two? A former client sends me texts and pictures of his days off where he travels to attend heavy metal concerts—a major source of glee amid his busy corporate life. What’s that you say? You don’t have an hour a week? I am suspicious but understanding. If an hour a week sounds impossible, what about fifteen minutes?
  8. Be not afraid. Many achievers don’t love the idea of working through the kinks when rekindling a hobby. If it’s been twenty years since you golfed, you are going to suck a bit when you visit the driving range for the first time in two decades. You won’t play the piano with the same dexterity; you won’t run as fast; you won’t sketch with as much ease.

Remember when Steve Jobs said, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish. Never let go of your appetite to go after new ideas, new experiences, and new adventures”? Staying foolish means actively choosing a beginner’s mindset and reveling in the nonmastery. Speaking of mindsets…

Choose the Growth Mindset. Widening our lives requires us to shift from a fixed mindset (where we believe failure is an embarrassing limit of our abilities) to a growth mindset (where we believe failure is an opportunity to learn and grow, even if it looks like a shit show at first).

I am sometimes reluctant to pull out the paints with my art projects because I’m not in the mood to not win the imaginary art contest I’m competing in. I need to stop myself in those moments of being fixed and narrow and ask myself if I’d prefer to favor growth and width…and then I need to actively choose growth and width. Where might you be stuck in a fixed mindset today, a tad scared of what failure says about you?

Our time is finite, but our energy and experiences can be expanded while we’re above ground. Hobbies have never been easier to get into, if we’re willing to give ourselves permission to make the time, see that there is a well-being ROI, and live a little wider. Let’s find fun, engaging, captivating, challenging-but-not-buzzkillingly-hard hobbies. Let’s go gongoozling (which is really a thing) and then revel in our handmade vitality.

Excerpted from You Only Die Once, by Jodi Wellman. May 7, 2024. Voracious.

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