Lifestyle: How the power of hobbies can bring happiness

SO that’s Christmas done. A few pounds gained, the credit card strained. Now what? With the latest restrictions keeping us frozen in a seemingly timeless Covid Groundhog Day, it’s easy to lose heart. But for those of us in the know, the answer is simple and lies close to home . . . hobbies.

Don’t mock or underestimate the power of the hobby. Part of the problem lies in the comical nature of the word itself – rhymes with blobby, floppy – and isn’t taken seriously. Also the perception of the hobbyist often languishes in the mid-1970s, conjuring up images of flat-capped pigeon fanciers, anorak-wearing trainspotters or nerdy stamp collectors.

However, the rise of TV behemoths The Great British Bake Off, Strictly Come Dancing and to a lesser extent Sewing Bee proves the hobby bug is alive and well. And it’s not confined to us mere mortals. I’m always tickled to discover the hobbies pursued by the rich and famous – Rod Stewart and Neil Young (rail modelling); Tom Hanks (collects vintage typewriters); Angelina Jolie (collects daggers); Brad Pitt (builds Lego) to name a few.

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Indeed a study this month of 2,000 UK adults found six in 10 people are determined to increase their skill set and pick up new hobbies. Clearly, the love of time spent messing about, embracing trivia or desire to learn something different is as strong as ever.

And why not? In fact, you’d be crazy not have a hobby. A quick Google search highlights scores of studies extolling the mental health benefits of pursuing an interest outside of your working life.

And employers should note that the talents gained away from the desk – learning a musical instrument (creativity), sport (team player), wild swimming (fearlessness) or model building (attention to detail) – all feeds back anyway, creating a happier, more skilled, productive workforce. Everyone’s a winner.

I started learning to play the piano in my late 20s, a desire that had chipped away at me since I was a child but never had the opportunity. I even remember mimicking the finger movements on imaginary keys on the kitchen table while listening to, coincidentally, John Lennon’s Imagine. I was obsessed, but didn’t have access to an instrument.

So when I was older, on the spur of the moment I strolled into a piano shop and bought a cheap one, without a clue of how to play. I was fortunate to find a brilliant teacher and I’ve never looked back. Playing the piano is as much part of my life now as watching TV or reading a book.

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However, the survey mentioned earlier also found 36 per cent feel too old to pick up new skills. But this misses the point entirely – you really are never too old to learn. The beauty of hobbies is that they are about switching off, relaxing and finding your true self in a world free from competition, monetisation and judgement.

I’ll never play like Jools Holland, not in a million years, but so what. I couldn’t put a price on the importance of a hobby. So find your inner Picasso or Hendrix, pick up those paint brushes or guitar. You might surprise yourself.


Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.


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