The Hobby Paradox

Above: Captured 12/11/2014 using Nikon CoolPix S8000. On board: “What is a truth worth writing about?”

Hobby (n.): an activity done in one’s leisure time for pleasure (Oxford Dictionary, accessed 11/26/2016)

Hobby has always been a paradoxical thing for me – it is, by definition, unessential yet it is an essential part of our lives as humans. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, hobbies occupy the top-most level, yet they seem to be an integral part in the maintenance of our most basic humanity.

“What are your hobbies?” is perhaps the most standard question asked after “So, how’s the weather, eh?” and “What’s your name?” (in that order, respectively). If you’ve ever filled out any type of online portfolio or have gone to any social gathering, you’ve undoubtedly come across this question or one of its many manifestations.

As a college woman especially, I’ve had my fair share of both asking and answering this question in its many forms (particularly during sorority recruitment season). I’ve always answered with the same old – Netflix (if stone skipping is a hobby, so is Netflix) and reading – because I needed something, and these were things I was comfortable enough talking about. Though according to the Oxford Dictionary definition, these are not hobbies. The former is done in procrastination time not leisure time, and always resulted in more self-hatred afterwards. The latter is done because I’m a philosophy major, even though it does bring me pleasure.

Whenever I come across this question, though, my first crude thought is: “Who the #!$%@ has time for hobbies? I’m a college student balancing a double major, pre-medicine, and three clubs. You expect me to maintain a 4.0 GPA (R.I.P), a social life, a normal sleeping schedule, service hours, AND an activity ‘done for pleasure’ during ‘leisure time’?! What kind of twisted quixotic world do you live in!?”

I find it amusing that hobbies, despite being the definition of unessential, are one of the most important features of our humanness. It’s kind of like the entrance fee to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. They say it’s optional, but if you try to cruise through without paying – you will get some dirty glares. Everyone pays, other than the few brave souls who are really sticking it to the system.

Likewise, hobbies are also optional-not-optional. Think about it for a second – have you ever met someone without a hobby? What did you think of that person? Did they seem a little less human to you? Boring, definitely, and maybe even a bit robotic? Well congratulations, you’ve just mechanistically dehumanized someone.

Over time, I’ve eased up on my cynical views on hobbies. I’ve come to appreciate their necessity in maintaining one’s sanity and work-life balance by providing time for life. I recently picked up a pen again after many, many years of not writing for leisure, and was greeted by the delightful feeling of free self-expression without an assigned topic and required citations. For the time that I write, I forget about the work deadlines, the test stresses, and all the social anxiety that plague my “working” hours.

Make no mistake, however, I don’t write during my leisure time. That’s because in a modern world where we’re all connected all the time, there really is no clear line between work and leisure. In college especially, you basically live where you work, so there really is never a true disconnect, unless you travel elsewhere for break. That makes leisure time a conscious creation, not a magical fairy descending from the heavens.

We talk about hobbies like it’s something that effortlessly occurs. We make it seem like we have hobbies because they bring us immense joy and not for other practical reasons. But the truth is, hobbies are not effortless, they require conscious planning, and we do feel obligated to have hobbies because it makes us seem normal. Paradoxical, ain’t it?


Writer’s Note: The Economist published a thoughtful article on our perceptions of free time, here.


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