“Get Hobby Happy,” New Era, July 2019, 12–15.
Do you ever feel pulled in too many directions at once? Homework, housework, work-work, Church service, play practice … it adds up fast. And it can be overwhelming.
Mental and emotional health are critical to your overall well-being. In For the Strength of Youth, we read: “In all aspects of your life, seek healthy solutions to problems. Do all you can to safeguard your physical and emotional health so that you can fulfill your divine potential as a son or daughter of God.”1
There’s a lot to that word safeguard. It means being proactive and protecting something, even before there are any danger signs. When it comes to safeguarding mental and emotional health, the right hobbies can be useful tools. Here are seven reasons why.
Not all hobbies are created equal. Do you watch TV to unwind … or do you spend an hour each night building a costume masterpiece for the next big fan convention?
At first glance, the options of TV viewing or costume creating might sound like only a matter of taste. Yet there’s a big difference in how those two activities influence mental health.
Good hobbies involve active leisure, which means becoming so involved in doing something that you start to lose track of time and other outside factors. This is different from passive leisure, which is more of the TV-watching kind. Active leisure invigorates you where passive leisure merely distracts you. While passive leisure can also make time fly (“Did I just spend three hours on the ‘Sassy Salamanders of Social Media’ feed?”), you don’t feel nearly as restored or replenished afterward.
President Russell M. Nelson has taught, “A good hobby can dispel heartache and give zest to life.”2
If you’ve ever been completely absorbed by a pile of plastic building blocks, a handful of colored pencils, a mix of ingredients, an instrument, a crossword puzzle, power tools, riding your bike, or anything else that made the clock disappear while you were actively doing something, you have a good sense of what active leisure feels like and the benefits it can bring.
Health care experts urge us: “Take up a hobby. When you engage in something enjoyable, it can soothe and calm your restless mind.”3
Too much stress for too long can have serious consequences, including mental health challenges.4 The right hobbies give us a break from stress and provide something to look forward to.
Hobbies can also help you build emotional resilience. If you have diverse interests, you likely won’t feel as troubled if one part of your life isn’t going well.
For example, say you get a bad grade on a big assignment. The sting could be pretty bad if you think of yourself only as a student. However, that sting lessens if you also identify as an athlete, an artist, or something else that you throw yourself into.
Most of all, your identity should be as a child of God (see Romans 8:16–17).
Too busy for a hobby? You might want to rethink your schedule.
A balanced life requires balancing. “The limitations of mortality may require us to slow down and restore our strength at certain times (see Mosiah 4:27). It is not selfish to take time for yourself.”5
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has taught: “Fatigue is the common enemy of us all—so slow down, rest up, replenish, and refill. Physicians promise us that if we do not take time to be well, we most assuredly will take time later on to be ill.”6
Funny thing, though—your time-management skills tend to improve once you schedule stuff you like doing. You’ll likely finish chores and homework sooner because you want to put in a half hour on the saxophone or make it to your robotics club later that night.
As one psychologist and counselor has written: “Hobbies are often thought of as activities for people who lead quiet, relaxed lives. However, people with full, busy, even stressful lives may need hobbies more than the average person, and benefit greatly from having hobbies in their lives.”7
Your brain needs exercise as much as any muscle. Good hobbies can help every part of your brain get a solid workout.
If you’re problem-solving all day at school, your brain might feel tired but would still thrive on adding a creative hobby. Similarly, if you have a schedule full of creative activities, a logic-based hobby like tinkering with electronics or doing Sudoku puzzles could help keep your brain fine-tuned. Hobbies that complement your regular mental tasks provide the best brain workout.
Studies have shown that certain activities that activate both sides of the brain at once—such as playing a musical instrument—can actually form better neural pathways between the hemispheres. This allows both sides of the brain to work better more effectively in all other settings. Considering that “your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you” (1 Corinthians 6:19), training your brain to think more efficiently is just good temple maintenance!
Many hobbies are social in nature. Love to hike? It’s safer and more fun going with a buddy or two. Want to try acting? You’ll likely end up with several new friends from a single production, even if you don’t speak a single line onstage. President Russell M. Nelson has taught, “Each day of your life, strive to enlarge your own circle of friendship.”8
Even those hobbies you do all by yourself can become great conversation starters when meeting new people. “Hi, I’m Jesse, and I build and use medieval weaponry in battle reenactments for fun.” Let the questions commence!
Let’s face it, sometimes we just need something to celebrate. Maybe you didn’t make the team. Maybe your report card is nothing to high-five about. Maybe your last date was a wreck.
Have no fear! You can still top your high score in bowling, beat your personal-best jump-rope record, or create your best-ever handcrafted necklace. Your results don’t even have to be of the best-ever variety to prove effective. Doing anything at all that you enjoy can give you a sense of accomplishment and chase away discouragement.
Music lessons can lead to a calling as a sacrament meeting organist. Cooking or baking skills allow you to brighten anyone’s day with whisk and spoon. And those carpentry skills you picked up by building a game table will serve you—and those you care for—throughout life.
President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency has developed many skills and hobbies over the years. One such hobby is painting. He shares this talent with others in a unique form of service. Elder Robert D. Hales (1932–2017) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles once wrote, “On occasion [President Eyring] will send a thank-you note or a watercolor painting as a remembrance.”9 Can you imagine receiving such a treasure? Your own hobbies and skills can similarly bless others in unique ways.
It’s worth ending with a short note of caution. Hobbies, like any pursuit, can easily take up too much of our time if we’re not careful. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said: “Often we devote our best efforts in pursuit of a hobby, a sport, vocational interests, and community or political issues. All these things may be good and honorable, but are they leaving us time and energy for what should be our highest priorities?”10
In other words, don’t let bowling night replace family night. Don’t let your new music band hold practice during your Church meetings. Don’t ditch ministering for mountain climbing. Remember to prioritize the most important things.
Yet, again, one of the most important things is to make sure you have enough mental and emotional health to succeed in your many daily tasks, which includes serving others and serving in the Church.
Good hobbies, practiced with balance, are one tool among many that can safeguard your mental and emotional health. Think of good mental health as having enough gas in the tank to make it from start to finish, no matter what road you’re traveling.
And with enough gas in the tank, what a journey your life will be.