I have (too) many hobbies. The funny thing is, I consider every one of them vital to my enjoyment of life. Or I thought I did. Last week someone who shall not be named suggested that my hobbies were a complete waste of time. “I mean, what’s the point?” this person asked. “You put together Lego and take it apart. Same with jigsaw puzzles. You read a book and put it away. You color a page and then it’s done. At the end of the day, haven’t you just wasted all of that time? Wouldn’t you be better served by finding more useful ways to spend your time?” (Fortunately, I am not close with this party pooper, so X-ing them out of my life isn’t going to be a problem.)
My immediate answer to all of this was, “Hell, no, it’s not a waste of time.” But when I think about it, I can sort of see his point. Sort of… from a very far distance… but I can see it.
If you’re an extreme Type A personality, I can see why hobbies look like a waste of time. Most of them don’t contribute anything to your career or earnings prospects. For some people, that’s the point of life. If whatever you’re doing doesn’t register in a productivity app, then it isn’t worth doing. Everything you do needs to move the needle of your career forward.
Also, there’s a school of thought that anything which doesn’t yield a useful result isn’t worthwhile. For example, hobbies like cooking, tinkering with cars, art (which is good enough to sell/display), sewing/knitting, rehabbing furniture, etc. are “acceptable.” These things end with something useful and tangible. Even if you don’t sell the finished product, you can keep it and add something to your life.
According to these people, hobbies like mine are a waste of time. Maybe I can consider reading non-fiction valuable, as it might teach me useful skills, but beyond that, the things I enjoy are pointless. At least according to some people.
Reading fiction is just escapism. Puzzles are done and put away. Lego is taken apart at the end. Movies are just two hours of wasted time. Board games are neither useful, nor productive. When you travel, you just come home, so what was the point? Even walking or yoga are, by some metrics, a waste of time as they accomplish nothing. Other than boosting health, of course, but if you’re measuring strictly by productivity or tangible usefulness, then exercise is a waste of time. (Yeah, that’s silly because if you don’t exercise you end up dead which is the ultimate productivity killer. I’m just taking this argument to the extreme to prove a point.)
Apparently, I waste a lot of time, because nothing I do is productive. (Well, writing turned productive. It started as a hobby, but now I make a little money from it. So there’s that. I wonder if I can monetize jigsaw puzzles…)
But after considering these “alternate” positions on hobbies, I’ve decided that it’s all bunk. These people who insist on productivity and usefulness are not living any sort of life that I’d like to live. Life isn’t meant to be a soulless grind to the grave. There are plenty of things in life that bring joy, but which will not make you rich or contribute meaningfully to the world. Like I said, you can take this argument to the extreme and make anything useless or a waste of time. But would your life be good quality without things like exercise, caring for pets, travel, etc.? No, likely not.
We all need things in life that bring us joy. That might come from reading a book that takes us to a fantasy world, or watching a movie that makes us sigh at the romance. It might come from creating art that’s so bad even your mother won’t hang it on her fridge. Maybe it comes from spending two hours trouncing your friends at a board game. Your joy may come from doing a piece of needlework and putting it away. Or throwing it away. Maybe you get a spark of happiness by building a pyramid from soda cans and knocking it over. I don’t know. You do you. It’s not my place to judge which hobbies are “permissible” and which are not.
As far as I’m concerned, we all need stuff in our lives that gives us a break from reality for a while. The world today can be a scary and weird place. As long as your hobby isn’t hurting anyone else or infringing on anyone else’s basic rights, I don’t care what makes you happy. And no one else should either. If you want to make all of your hobbies into steps on a career ladder, fine. But not everyone must adhere to that plan. And that doesn’t mean we’re all wasting our time.
Those of us who choose unproductive hobbies aren’t slackers. In fact, you may find that some of us work harder than average. “Useless” hobbies are the things that keep us sane and make us able to go out into the world and be productive day after day. Now, if you’re using hobbies to avoid working, then you might have a problem. But otherwise, do what you have to do to stay sane and relaxed in a world that seems hell bent on making us all crazy.
(Image by Mike Sweeney)