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Why You Need Hobbies (And Some Ideas To Get Started)

Turn your free time into your passion.

two people lying in grass and reading
Credit: Shutterstock/LeManna

“What do you do for fun?” can be a harder question than it seems.

While there’s nothing wrong with watching Netflix/YouTube/TikTok, its monopoly on free time is a symptom of hustle-bustle culture. If your time and energy is completely drained from attending lectures and working and studying and commuting all day, all you want to do is turn your brain off and watch something funny. But relaxation and self-care don’t have to mean turning your brain off.

Making even a little bit of time for a hobby can be beneficial for mental health. A 2018 study focusing on 658 young adults found that regular engagement in creative activities was associated with improved well-being and psychological functioning. If you’re the type who cannot even think of relaxing when there’s still work to be done, think of it as a way of refueling your brain so you can do your best work.

In both an era and period of life when stress seems to pile on endlessly, it’s important to take time for yourself; no job or school is worth the complete decimation of your mental health or a monopoly on your time.

It’s never a bad time to try out a new hobby. And the nicer spring weather around the corner opens up even more options on ways to get out and have fun.

1. Journaling

If you like to read or write or decorate things or just have a lot of thoughts or plans that you need to write down, you might want to keep a journal.

For planning events and tasks or writing daily diary entries, you might consider a bullet journal.

While Pinterest and Tumblr are full of aesthetic bullet journals decorated with colored pens, mildliners, washi tape, and stickers, you can always just jot some thoughts down with your favorite ballpoint pen. Make it as extravagant or as simple as you’d like. If you don’t want to write whole diary entries or calendars, a commonplace book is a more freeform medium. Got a random quote or song lyric stuck in your head? Commonplace book. Learn a cool new fact? Commonplace book. Doodle during phone calls? Commonplace book.

2. Gardening

@claudiasurtiktok

Update of my Indoor Garden 🌱👋🏻 it’s growing ☀️ thank you quarantine! #indoorgarden #garden #indoorgardening #plantslover #minigarden #apartmentdiy

♬ New Soul – Yael Naim

A common concern with gardening is a lack of space, but you don’t need a big backyard to raise some plants.

If you only have a tiny dorm or apartment, try keeping some herbs, succulents, or flowers on your windowsill.

Having some greenery in your space can help provide a splash of life and color, as well as the fulfillment that comes with keeping the little fellas alive. Plus, if your plants are edible, you may even get a little treat.

3. Birdwatching

binoculars and book about birds
Credit: Shutterstock/4thebirds

With their diverse range of songs and caws and the way they flutter out of sight in a flash, watching birds can be a surprisingly engaging experience.

If you can’t go out to a park or forest, just look around your neighborhood or campus. They may hide in trees, under shrubs, or under the roof of a lecture hall. Use your naked eye or a cheap pair of binoculars for a closer look.

Look for guides — online or physical — on the birds of your area. Maybe try out Merlin, a bird identification app by the Cornell Lab that can help you identify bird calls and narrow down searches of a bird species by size, colors, and behaviors.

4. Arts and crafts

There seems to be a misconception that you can only do art if you’re “good enough” at it. Not only does this mindset hinder any potential growth you could have, but you don’t have to be an expert in art to engage your creativity.

You don’t have to spend a fortune on paints and canvases to do art either. Try using everyday objects around your home or go out into your backyard, park or campus and pick up objects that seem neat.

Here are some ideas for non-intimidating ways to get artsy:

  • The most obvious: paint or draw – You don’t have to “be an artist.” Grab a pencil and a notebook or a cheap acrylic or watercolor paint set and find any muse you’d like.
  • String painting – To really get “loose” with painting
  • Bead crafts – Bracelets, charms, decorations
  • Pipe cleaner crafts – Flowers, toys, figures
  • Origami – Flowers, senbazuru (1000 crane origami display, if you want a long-term project)
  • Hand-sewing – Bags, accessories, plushies

5. Hikes and nature walks

Hiking is a great way to get some exercise while enjoying nature. Even if you can’t do a full hike, a simple stroll through a park or garden can be a relaxing, refreshing habit.

You don’t need to buy any expensive equipment to start out: just grab a good pair of walking shoes and a bottle of water and head outside into the fresh air. Hit local parks and easy trails, and if you want to go more hardcore, find the right shoes and equipment and start hiking whenever you’re ready.

6. Cooking and baking

Cooking doesn’t have to be a chore — turn those food videos you’ve liked on TikTok into reality.

Cooking/baking can be a solo endeavor or a social event. Find a simple lunch or single-serve dessert for yourself, or bake a batch of cookies or cook a lavish meal to share with family, friends, or roommates. Get creative with presentation. Experiment with ingredients. Find recipes that suit your preferences, dietary restrictions, and are fun to make and eat.

7. Learn a new language (or multiple!)

stack of books with flags sticking out
Credit: Shutterstock/udra11

Studying more may not seem fun, but learning a new language is a great way to learn more about another culture and your own ways of communicating in your native language.

Maybe you want to learn a common language spoken around your area for practical uses, or maybe you want to improve your mother tongue, or maybe you want to learn something simply because you find it fascinating. No language is universally “easier” to learn than another, even among speakers of the same language, so try whatever appeals to you.

There’s several apps which teach the most commonly studied languages, but you can also study independently. Look online, listen to native speakers, peruse the resources section of your library or bookstore. Listen to songs or watch shows in your target language.

And remember, the joy comes from the learning, not fluency.

8. Miniature-building

Shrink the overwhelming world into a cute, controllable size.

If you’re a fan of games like Warhammer or Dungeons and Dragons, you probably know about the two-inch tall character figures that you can paint yourself.

If you’re not, it’s easy to find inspiration for your own miniature railroads, houses, home items, and food. You can buy premade kits with instructions for specific dioramas, or DIY with items lying around your home. Use cardboard and doll accessories to create a shoebox home. Use inexpensive air-dry or polymer clay to mold tiny food or characters. You can even grab some twigs, twine, and superglue to assemble whimsical fairy furniture.

While some might find the work tedious, focusing on a tiny piece of art can ease your mind from big worries. Plus, the mini size sure is cute.

9. Reading

hands holding book
Credit: Shutterstock/arisara

Reading can seem boring, but often it’s about finding the right kind of book. The right book can engage your imagination, get you thinking about important topics, or simply open up a world to briefly explore.

Find a genre, author, or theme that excites or fascinates you: 17th century classics, young adult fiction, horror, romance, nonfiction, etc.

If you don’t have time for an entire novel, try short stories or poems. You can find many in anthologies or collections. Older works are likely available for free on the Poetry Foundation or The Gutenberg Project. Some contemporary authors even post pieces for free or for small subscriptions on personal blogs or Substack newsletters.

10. Volunteering

people serving food over counter
Credit: Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images

And if you have a hard time enjoying any of the above activities because you’re consumed with overwhelming dread about life, put it to good use!

Volunteer at a zoo, an animal shelter, or food banks. Tutor or read to kids at the library. Help maintain parks — local, state, or national — or other areas near you.

Volunteering is a great way to put your spare time to good use and connect with the people, animals, and places in your communities. There are plenty of ways to volunteer, so find an organization related to your interests or your major. Your volunteering might even spark a newfound passion.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Maybe try out a few here and follow where your passion takes you. No matter how busy life, school, or work gets, it’s always worth having something just for your personal development, fun, and wellbeing. Taking care of yourself is never a waste of time.

For more ideas, check out these related articles:

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I am a senior at the University of California, Davis, pursuing my bachelor's degree in English. In my free time I enjoy drawing, watching anime, and tending to my plants.

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