For happiness…keep up your hobbies

For happiness…keep up your hobbies

Hobbies are becoming a thing of the past, writes Angela Mollard…but please don't neglect them! 

from (HERE)

RECENTLY I was at a wedding having a nice little natter with the bride's uncle when he asked me: "What do you do in your spare time?"

Ha, I thought, who knew Uncle Lawrence was a sleazebag with a repertoire of pick-up lines? Next he'll be asking if I'm Jamaican "because Jamaican me crazy". But no, Uncle Lawrence is from the generation which says "bottom", not "bum" or "arse", and he was genuinely enquiring what I did in my spare time.

Spare time? What, like a stretch of hours during which there is nothing to be done? How quaint. I haven't had "spare time" since 1999 and that only came about because I had gastro so, technically, was busy chatting on the big white telephone.

Hang on – before you click to another page under the misapprehension I'm one of those self-important bores who bleat about being terribly, terribly busy (Oh God, I probably am), this is a column about hobbies. And how virtually none of us have any.

In the years BC (before children) I used to have a range of mind-broadening pursuits with which to regale people at weddings. There was book club, which I've had to leave because I got rumbled pretending I'd read Wolf Hall when I'd only skimmed the synopsis on Amazon. And skiing, which I love, but have curtailed because it's cheaper to do a kitchen renovation. Surfing I've abandoned because I'm too unfit to get up on the board. Thankfully, I still play hockey every Saturday but that's because I like hitting things so it's more anger management than a bona fide pursuit.

Go back a few more years and my weeks were spent in a dizzying round of orienteering, baton-twirling (seriously), tap-dancing and amateur theatrics that I still draw on every now and then.

Yep, I was the ultimate extra-curricular kid, with an armload of girl guide badges to prove it. Now I could probably only gain proficiency in social media, wine tasting and laundering.

It's not just me and the other moaning mummies – even my single friends and people under 30 don't have hobbies. Pastimes, it seems, were for past times.

"A hobby – what's that?" laughs a friend, a 29-year-old make-up artist who works from 5am til 6pm seven days a week running her own business. "I have a pot plant – does that count as gardening?" enquires another. "Ooo, I have a hobby," claims one mum. "It's such fun – I drive my son to rowing at 5am and sit in the car with the engine running and the heater on until 7am. If I close my eyes I can almost pretend it's meditation."

Hobbies pursued for enjoyment, relaxation or curiosity have been usurped by child ferrying and activities designed for self-improvement: fitness, cooking, home decoration, personal grooming. Men like my dad who whiled away hours sailing, and building model trains, now cycle. And talk about cycling. And have coffee after cycling. And shop for cycling pants. "No, it's not a hobby," laughs a mate, "call it a beer tax because it offsets the drinking."

Women, meanwhile, have pedicures, take selfies and sit in the car even after they arrive home because you've got to take five minutes solitude and an upholstered seat where you can get it.

As for families, 80 per cent say watching television is their favourite pastime, followed by eating out and shopping, according to recent research from the Macquarie Group.

And yet we're happiest when we're hobbying (making up words is a very laudable pursuit). Reese Witherspoon says she loves shopping for antique linens when she's not shouting at police, Cameron Diaz enjoys surfing, Gisele Bündchen adores volleyball and Gisele Bündchen's husband, I suspect, is made pretty happy by watching his wife play volleyball.

Indeed, a loving partner, up to $100,000 of household income and a social activity that offers a sense of purpose make up the "golden triangle of happiness" according to research by Deakin University.

"Some people associate hobbies with wasting time and regard them as not important but that's a mistake," says Dr Tim Sharp, psychologist and founder of The Happiness Institute. "Although, by definition, many hobbies don't have an immediate purpose the contribution they make to life is enormous because by boosting happiness they, in turn, boost quality of life which includes productivity, health and success."

He's right. We're in danger of reducing ourselves to two dimensions: work and online. Immersing yourself in something purely for the pleasure of it is to embrace the kaleidoscope that is life. A friend battling MS clearly gets great joy making candles and pickles which she gives away generously. My mum, like Julia Gillard, relaxes by knitting although, unlike Julia, she has yet to be impaled on her needles.

As for me, I plan to take up paddleboarding and try my hand at topiary and extreme ironing. In the meantime, I achieve my happiness quota laughing myself stupid at others' attempts at scrapbooking.

Follow Angela Mollard on Twitter: @angelamollard