I don’t know about you, but at some point in my life, “hobby” became synonymous with “coping mechanism.” Whether it was my slew of pandemic hobbies, or getting really, really into anime after Donald Trump won the 2016 election, I’ve been escaping and distracting myself with hobbies for years now. Along the way, I held Animal Crossing parties, played Dungeons & Dragons, and painted along with Bob Ross. There were scrapbooks and board games, TikTok tutorials and trends. (I baked exactly one loaf of bread, as was customary at the time.)
I’m hardly unique in this regard—lots of people lean on leisure activities for their many benefits. But you’re not alone if holding down a hobby isn’t high on your to-do list, whether you lack the time, energy, or interest. Maybe a favorite pastime has fallen to the wayside in recent years, or perhaps you never really found your thing. Either way, hear us out: We have a few reasons it’s worth making a priority, especially if you’re looking for ways to boost your mental health.
As for those of you already on the hobby train, reminding yourself of the importance of hobbies can still help you make space for them. Because in this world—wherein we always have so much to do and so little time—sometimes, you need an excuse.
Generally speaking, hobbies are awesome.
Because humanity is a rich tapestry, we all have different ideas of what constitutes a hobby. For example, I would rather sit on a hill of ants than go for a jog, but you might find it the most rewarding way to spend your time ever. So many things can fall under the hobby umbrella, from birdwatching to crocheting to rebuilding old cars.
The good news is, a lot of the reasons hobbies are so great for us have less to do with a specific activity, and more to do with the act of having one at all. For starters, doing something for pleasure engages your brain’s trusty reward system. You do something you enjoy, feel-good chemicals are released, and boom, there’s your prize in and of itself.
Instant gratification aside, hobbies can also help you deal with the stresses of your daily responsibilities—even when it feels like you have zero time or energy for recreation after an exhausting day of work. One study, for example, looked at the relationship between long working hours, depression, and well-being. On top of discovering the obvious (more than 40 hours on the job a week had a significant negative impact on mental health), researchers also found that hobbies helped mitigate those adverse effects.
Finding hobbies you love is also a long-term investment in yourself. A 2023 meta-analysis crunched the data of more than 93,000 older adults and found that respondents with hobbies—loosely defined as activities done for pleasure during leisure time—self-reported higher health, happiness, and life satisfaction. On the other hand, people who experienced signs of depression were less likely to be engaged in hobbies.